Exotic species are a growing global ecological threat; however, their overall effects are insufficiently understood. While some exotic species are implicated in many species extinctions, others can provide benefits to the recipient communities. Here, we performed a meta-analysis to quantify and synthesize the ecological effects of 76 exotic marine species (about 6% of the listed exotics) on ten variables in marine communities. These species caused an overall significant, but modest in magnitude (as indicated by a mean effect size of g < 0.2), decrease in ecological variables. Marine primary producers and predators were the most disruptive trophic groups of the exotic species. Approximately 10% (that is, 2 out of 19) of the exotic species assessed in at least three independent studies had significant impacts on native species. Separating the innocuous from the disruptive exotic species provides a basis for triage efforts to control the marine exotic species that have the most impact, thereby helping to meet Aichi Biodiversity Target 9 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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Data availability

All data underlying the study have been deposited in PANGAEA at https://doi.pangaea.de/10.1594/PANGAEA.895681.

Code availability

The R script used in this manuscript will be deposited in the Github community repository upon publication (https://github.com/ngeraldi/marine-exotics-global-analysis).

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The authors are thankful to the following individuals: S. Ghani for conducting the network diagrams for Fig. 2, using resources and services at the Visualization Core Lab at KAUST; I. Ferri for advice on the design of Fig. 5; and C. Nelson for her assistance organizing the Invasive Species Workshop at KAUST. This research was supported by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) through baseline funding to C.M.D., by Horizon 2020 Framework Programme (EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation H2020) (grant no. 659246) to S.B., by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Agencia Estatal de Investigación (Spanish Agencia Estatal de Investigación) (grant no. FJCI – 2016 – 30728) to S.B., by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, Agencia Estatal de Investigación (Spanish Agencia Estatal de Investigación) (grant no. CGL 2015 – 71809 – P) to N.M., J.S.-G. and S.B., and by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (grant no. CE 140100020) to J.M.P.

Author information


  1. Red Sea Research Centre, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Thuwal, Saudi Arabia

    • Andrea Anton
    • , Nathan R. Geraldi
    •  & Carlos M. Duarte
  2. School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Catherine E. Lovelock
  3. Institute of Oceanography, Hellenic Center for Marine Research, Heraklion, Greece

    • Eugenia T. Apostolaki
  4. Global Change Research Group, Institut Mediterrani d’Estudis Avançats (IMEDEA), CSIC-UIB, Esporles, Spain

    • Scott Bennett
    • , Nuria Marbà
    •  & Julia Santana-Garcon
  5. Dauphin Island Sea Laboratory, Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium, Dauphin Island, AL, USA

    • Just Cebrian
  6. Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA

    • Just Cebrian
  7. Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University, Stennis Space Center, MS, USA

    • Just Cebrian
  8. Arctic Research Centre, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

    • Dorte Krause-Jensen
  9. Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, Silkeborg, Denmark

    • Dorte Krause-Jensen
  10. Laboratorio de Ecologia, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (IIMyC) CONICET-UNMdP, Mar de Plata, Argentina

    • Paulina Martinetto
  11. Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • John M. Pandolfi
  12. Computational Bioscience Research Center, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Thuwal, Saudi Arabia

    • Carlos M. Duarte


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C.M.D., A.A., C.E.L. and N.R.G. conceived and designed the study. A.A., N.R.G., C.E.L., E.T.A., S.B., J.C., D.K.-J., N.M., P.M., J.M.P. and J.S.-G. constructed the dataset. A.A. and N.R.G. performed the data analyses with contributions from all co-authors. All authors contributed to writing and improving the manuscript and approved the submission.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrea Anton.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–4 and Supplementary Tables 1–5

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