Biological Invasions
The Introduction of Non-Native Species Worldwide


Every day, thousands of cargo ships around the world are busy loading and unloading their cargo. In addition to their intended cargo, however, these enormous vessels also ship other, unintended cargo. Hidden in the ships' ballast water - water used to stabilize the ships when not carrying a load - and stuck to the ships' hulls, millions of tiny plants and animals are also making their way around the world. These non-native organisms are released with ballast water into a new port during loading and unloading of cargo or are scraped off the hull. Though not all survive the big trip, some do, and even adapt well to the environment. Some do so well that they out-compete local species, and others introduce diseases that quickly spread through the ecosystem.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center has the largest research program in the United States investigating the introduction and establishment of these non-native species in coastal ecosystems. Dr. Greg Ruiz heads the SERC Marine Invasion Ecology lab, and he and his team of researchers study the rate and patterns of U.S. coastal invasions and maintain the national database of marine and estuarine invasions.

This electronic field trip will investigate the cause and consequences of the arrival of organisms not native to America's coastal waters. Students will join SERC researchers in the San Francisco Bay area to sample and study the foreign organisms found there - how they arrived, how they have adapted, and how they affect the overall ecosystem.