Invasive species coming from the Suez Canal (named “lessepsian” after Ferdinand de Lesseps, the engineer who built the Canal) often have strong impact on fisheries, marine ecosystems, and health of people populating the Mediterranean basin. Among these species, the silver-cheeked toadfish (Lagocephalus sceleratus, Gmelin 1789) is a pufferfish that has rapidly colonised the eastern basin and is fast moving westwards. This species is one among the most dangerous invaders, because it has an opportunistic behaviour and attacks fish caught by vessels while damaging catch and nets. Further, it is highly toxic because it secretes tetrodotoxin (100 times more poisonous than cyanide) and it is at the top of the food chain. The invasion of the Mediterranean Sea by this pufferfish is probably going to be a real economic and health plague in the near future, especially because it is fostered by climate change. So far, economic damages up to 5 million euros have been calculated, with several severe injury cases. In order to avoid catastrophic consequences, it is fundamental to understand which areas will be potentially invaded by this fish in the future and possibly prevent or stem its spread.
The Networked Multimedia Information Systems Laboratory (NeMIS) of the Institute of Information Science and Technologies "Alessandro Faedo" (Isti-Cnr), has produced global climate change forecasts up to 2100 and has consequently estimated a near-future potential distribution of the pufferfish in the Mediterranean Sea. “This result has been obtained by processing Big Data through several Artificial Intelligence models and a Cloud Computing platform” explains Gianpaolo Coro, researcher at Isti-Cnr interviewed by the “New Scientist” science magazine. “Our results suggest that the pufferfish population will grow in the future and will possibly move to several western Mediterranean coasts, including Italian coasts where it can actually be found already. Further, the invasion could extend to the Black Sea due to the pufferfish’s preference for warm and quite shallow waters”, continues Coro. CNR results were presented at the WWF/FAO “expert meeting on climate change implications for Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries” on December 2017 in Rome. This meeting defined the guidelines for the countries around these seas to defend themselves from risks related to climate change and highly invasive species. The article on the New Scientist correlates the scientific work of CNR with that of several institutes also outside Europe.
The results by Coro and colleagues are under publication on the Ecological Modelling journal (Coro, G., L. G. Vilas, C. Magliozzi, A. Ellenbroek, P. Scarponi, P. Pagano. Forecasting the ongoing invasion of Lagocephalus sceleratus in the Mediterranean Sea. Ecological Modelling, Ed. Elsevier). “One peculiarity of this experiment apart from the ecological analysis, is that it is an interesting result in terms of Open Science, because every step of our experiment is reproducible and repeatable, thanks to an e-Infrastructure (D4Science) that publishes the processes as Web services, guarantees data access and sharing, and is reusable to supervise the invasion of the Mediterranean Sea by other species”, concludes Coro. The match against the silver-checked toadfish is still to be played, but usage of tetrodotoxin in healthcare (e.g. during chemotherapy) in already being explored.
Pre-print version of the Ecological Modelling paper:
Coro, G., L. G. Vilas, C. Magliozzi, A. Ellenbroek, P. Scarponi, P. Pagano (2018). Forecasting the ongoing invasion of Lagocephalus sceleratus in the Mediterranean Sea. Ecological Modelling, Ed. Elsevier, http://data.d4science.org/aEF3cFZHTC9pc1prd05NNWIrSFpaTzF3cWlycWtQdHpHbWJQNStIS0N6Yz0