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Ecological Applications





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The Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) is native to east Asia, is established throughout Europe, and is introduced but geographically restricted in North America. We developed and compared two separate environmental niche models using genetic algorithm for rule set prediction (GARP) and mitten crab occurrences in Asia and Europe to predict the species' potential distribution in North America. Since mitten crabs must reproduce in water with ≥15‰ salinity, we limited the potential North American range to freshwater habitats within the highest documented dispersal distance (1260 km) and a more restricted dispersal limit (354 km) from the sea. Applying the higher dispersal distance, both models predicted the lower Great Lakes, most of the eastern seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico and southern extent of the Mississippi River watershed, and the Pacific northwest as suitable environment for mitten crabs, but environmental match for southern states (below 35° N) was much lower for the European model. Use of the lower range with both models reduced the expected range, especially in the Great Lakes, Mississippi drainage, and inland areas of the Pacific Northwest. To estimate the risk of introduction of mitten crabs, the amount of reported ballast water discharge into major United States ports from regions in Asia and Europe with established mitten crab populations was used as an index of introduction effort. Relative risk of invasion was estimated based on a combination of environmental match and volume of unexchanged ballast water received (July 1999–December 2003) for major ports. The ports of Norfolk and Baltimore were most vulnerable to invasion and establishment, making Chesapeake Bay the most likely location to be invaded by mitten crabs in the United States. The next highest risk was predicted for Portland, Oregon. Interestingly, the port of Los Angeles/Long Beach, which has a large shipping volume, had a low risk of invasion. Ports such as Jacksonville, Florida, had a medium risk owing to small shipping volume but high environmental match. This study illustrates that the combination of environmental niche- and vector-based models can provide managers with more precise estimates of invasion risk than can either of these approaches alone.

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