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Human interventions on the Earth’s natural systems are evident even in remote regions of the Antarctic and rain forests deep within the Amazon. In addition to human-induced climate change and habitat destruction, an emerging anthropogenic threat to biodiversity is the drastic species re-distribution (the movement of species from one place to another due to human intervention) at a global scale.
This creates fertile conditions for biological invasions which in turn cause substantial economic and ecological losses. These human-mediated invasions, often referred to as “biological pollution”, are a worldwide problem that is increasing in frequency and magnitude, causing significant damage to the environment, economy and human health. Bioinvasions have strong impact on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and stability. They are ranked as the second most important threat to biodiversity (after habitat destruction) by the World Conservation Union.
The Ctenophore, Mnemiopsis leidyi, is one of the invasive species that naturally lives in the Atlantic coastal waters of North America and South America, but discovered in Azov, Black, Caspian, North, Baltic and Mediterranean (north-eastern part) seas in early 1980s.
It seems that the main factor of its redistribution was the ballast waters of ships. As an alien species, Mnemiopsis leidyi caused many alterations in the Caspian Sea ecosystems. The fact that it feeds on the eggs of native fish Clopeonella spp., has resulted in a significant decline of its population; Clopeonella spp. were the main source of industrial fishing in the Caspian Sea and also the main source of food for precious fish species, the sturgeons, and therefore, their decline has caused a huge economical loss for the area's inhabitants and a significant decline of sturgeon populations.
This species has caused massive ecosystem changes and substantial economic losses in the late 1980s-1990s, and it has been recognized as a problem of main ecological concern for the sustainable development of the region, together with the high level of anthropogenic pressures on the Caspian Sea ecosystems. Some special characteristics of this species, such as adaptation to a wide range of salinity and temperature, high capability of reproduction, hermaphroditism and dissogeny, have led to huge increases of its mass, especially in southern regions of the Caspian Sea, the coastal waters of Iran. In addition, it has become clear that this species does not have any natural predators in the Caspian Sea, and also that it can feed on any organisms smaller than itself in size. Owing to these facts, it is a huge ecological threat for the Caspian Sea ecosystems. The aim of the present paper is to review the biological and ecological impacts of this invasive species on the Caspian Sea ecosystems.
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