Episodic global dispersal in shallow water marine organisms: The case history of the European shore crabs Carcinus maenas and C. aestuarii

James T. Carlton, Andrew N. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

238 Scopus citations


Aim: This paper evaluates global collection records, evidence of anthropogenic transport methods, and experimental and distributional data relative to temperature requirements to understand the historical and potential dispersal of a well-known genus of estuarine crab. Location: The records analysed are from temperate and tropical coastal ocean areas. Methods: The study is based primarily on literature analysis and examination of museum specimens. Results: The human-mediated successful global dispersal of the European shore crabs Carcinus maenas (Linnaeus, 1758) and C. aestuarii (Nardo, 1847) occurred in three major episodes: around 1800, in the 1850s-70s, and in the 1980s-90s. The nineteenth century introductions occurred through transport by ships (probably in hull fouling or in solid ballast), while the introductions in the 1980s could have occurred through a greater variety of dispersal mechanisms (ships' hull fouling and seawater system fouling; fouling on semisubmersible drilling platforms; ballast water; transport with fisheries products intended for food or bait; scientific research; releases from aquaria maintained for educational or scientific purposes; or intentional non-governmental releases for human food production). These introductions have resulted in Carcinus' establishment in five temperate regions outside of its native Europe in Atlantic North America, Australia, South Africa, Japan and Pacific North America, while releases into tropical regions have not established populations. C. maenas' range in both its native and introduced regions appears to be regulated by similar temperature parameters, enabling an assessment of its potential distribution. Main conclusions: The second episode of Carcinus' global dispersal, the period from the 1850s to 1870s, may be part of a broader surge of world-wide invasions caused by an increase in shipping.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1809-1820
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2003


  • Australia
  • Ballast water
  • Biological invasion
  • California
  • Carcinus aestuarii
  • Carcinus maenas
  • Carcinus mediterraneus
  • Dispersal
  • Europe
  • Fouling
  • Green crab
  • Introduction
  • Invasion history
  • Japan
  • South Africa
  • United States


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