50 years ago, invasive species traveled the Suez Canal | Science News



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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, invasive species traveled the Suez Canal

Excerpt from the March 30, 1968 issue of Science News

7:00am, March 23, 2018
Suez shipping canal

ALIEN INVASION  The Suez Canal made it easier for ships and stowaway critters to travel from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

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Biological invasion via Suez

The Red Sea is invading the Mediterranean.… So far about 140 life-forms, mostly animal and mostly invertebrate, have crossed the Isthmus of Suez.… It is possible that this … will result in the loss of a few native fish and invertebrate populations to stiff competition from the newcomers. — Science News, March 30, 1968


Whether the movement of creatures through the Suez Canal, called the Lessepsian migration, is good or bad has been debated from the time the waterway opened in 1869. The number of species invading the Mediterranean from the Red Sea now tops 400, scientists estimate. Some of these aliens have an unusual way of making the journey. At least 10 species of foraminifera hitch rides inside the guts of rabbitfish, which defecate out the still-living protists in the Mediterranean. The rabbitfish devour algal forests and the tiny interlopers carpet the seafloor, driving out some native species. In 2015, the Egyptian government widened part of the canal, allowing for more ship traffic — and unwanted invaders.


C. Weathersbee. Biological invasion via Suez. Science News. Vol. 93, March 30, 1968, p. 312.

S. Katsanevakis, et al. Invading the Mediterranean Sea: biodiversity patterns shaped by human activities. Frontiers in Marine Science. Published online September 30, 2014. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2014.00032.

T. Guy-Haim, et al. A novel marine bioinvasion vector: Ichthyochory, live passage through fish. Limnology and Oceanography Letters. Vol. 2, June 2017, p. 81. doi: 10.1002/lol2.10039.

A. Vergés, et al. Tropical rabbitfish and the deforestation of a warming temperate sea. Journal of the Ecology. Vol. 102, November 2014, p. 1518. doi: 10.1111/1365-2745.12324.

Further Reading

M. Quintanilla. Castaway critters rafted to U.S. shores aboard Japan tsunami debris. Science News. Vol. 192, October 28, 2017, p. 4.

M. Quintanilla. Here’s a breakdown of the animals that crossed the Pacific on 2011 tsunami debris. Science News. Vol. 192, October 28, 2017, p. 32.

R. Kwok. Fish escapes from marine farms raise concerns about wildlife. Science News. Vol. 190, September 17, 2016, p. 22.

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