This award supports an international collaborative project to study the invasion of blue crabs from its native (North America) to an introduced range (Mediterranean and surrounding seas). The research is to be carried out by a team including two U.S. (UT Austin and Duke) and two Turkish (Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University and Ege University) universities. The U.S. team provides expertise in marine community ecology, blue crab biology, marine molecular analysis and physical oceanography. The Turkish team provides expertise in the ecology of benthic invertebrates as well as fisheries biology and population dynamics.
The intellectual merit of this study derives from its interdisciplinary (combining biology and ecology) and comparative nature, as few studies examine invasive species in both their native and introduced ranges. The project will demonstrate the power of genome-wide association studies to determine genetic structure and relationships of invasive to source populations. Also, through a small-scale survey of blue crab stomach contents the study will provide a first step towards understanding the role of blue crabs in the native and introduced range communities. Specific goals include sharing techniques, applying a state of the art genetics approach to examine the blue crab population structure and Mediterranean introduction history, comparing prey species in the native and introduced ranges, and making detailed plans for subsequent proposals.
This research will generate enhanced understanding of the behaviors and impacts of invasive species, a critical problem in the U.S. and around the world. The detailed knowledge of the blue crab itself will enhance fisheries management in North Carolina as well as broader wildlife management in Texas, where blue crabs are the primary food source for whooping cranes. Further, the project will contribute to a globally engaged scientific workforce through the inclusion of graduate and post-doctoral students, as well as junior faculty.