Heart rate reflects osmostic stress levels in two introduced colonial ascidiansBotryllus schlosseriandBotrylloidesviolaceus

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The influence of abiotic factors on the establishment and success of invasive species is often difficult to determine for most marine ecosystems. However, examining this relationship is critical for predicting the spread of invasive species and predicting which habitats will be most vulnerable to invasion. Here we examine the mortality and physiological sensitivity to salinity of adult colonies of the colonial ascidians Botryllus schlosseri and Botrylloides violaceus. Adult colonies of each species were exposed to abrupt changes in salinity (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 psu) in the laboratory. Salinity ranges used in the laboratory corresponded with those of the field distributions of B. violaceus and B. schlosseri in the Great Bay Estuary, NH. Heart rate was used as a proxy for health to assess the condition of individual colonies. Heart rates were monitored daily for approximately 2 weeks. Results revealed that both species experienced 100% mortality after 1 day at 5 psu and that their heart rates declined with decreasing salinity. Heart rates of B. schlosseri remained consistent between 15 and 30 psu and slowed at 10 psu. Heart rates of B. violaceus remained constant between 20 and 30 psu, but slowed at 15 psu. These laboratory results corresponded to the distribution of these species in estuaries, indicating salinity is a key factor in the distribution and dominance of B. schlosseri and B. violaceus among coastal and estuarine sites. Furthermore, physiological differences to salinity were found between colonies of B. schlosseri in the Venetian Lagoon and colonies in Portsmouth Harbor, suggesting adaptation to environmental variables.

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