German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)



Skeleton shrimp (Caprella mutica), in German waters since 2004. Photo: C. Buschbaum
Skeleton shrimp (Caprella mutica), in german waters since 2004. Photo: C. Buschbaum

Neobiota are species that do not occur naturally in a given region, in many cases where their introduction has been brought about – actively or passively – by human action. They thus represent alien or non-indigenous species. Some have the potential to cause lasting change to existing ecological communities and the function of such communities. These are also known in nature conservation as invasive species. Given the threat posed by such species and, thanks to globalisation, the growing risk of their introduction, non-indigenous species feature in their own right in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) as a qualitative descriptor for determining good environmental status. Monitoring and evaluating these species is thus integral to assessment of the environmental status of our native marine ecosystems.

Monitoring neobiota at sea

Apart from canals linking river basins, the main vectors for the spread of invasive species in the seas are global shipping and aquaculture. Once they have become established, such species are almost impossible to remove with reasonable effort and expense and without damaging native ecological communities. Because of this, the focus is on preventing the introduction of further species. For monitoring to be effective, the best place to start is at sea ports, because that is where most non-indigenous species first arrive. A neobiota monitoring programme specifically targeting benthic organisms has been in place since 2009 and has received funding from BfN since 2011. A fixed network of stations has been set up for the programme along the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts.

Map of stations in the North Sea and Baltic Sea 2009-1014.

Click on the map for a larger view.

Map of stations in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea 2009-1014.

Rapid detection at 14 stations

In this BfN-funded monitoring programme, eight stations at North Sea ports and six stations at Baltic Sea ports have so far been sampled once a year.

The work mainly focuses on artificial hard substrates such as harbour moles and pontoons, which offer a suitable habitat for sessile species. Soft substrates (sand and silt) and natural hard substrates are also sampled, however.

The neobiota rapid detection programme supplies information on:

  • 1. Incidence of new non-indigenous species not previously found in the region
  • 2. Overall population trends for non-indigenous species in the region
  • 3. Spread of neobiota.

Used in conjunction with a list of non-indigenous species detected in German waters so far compiled by Lackschewitz et al. (2014), this provides a useful basis for developing an assessment system for neobiota.

A trend indicator has been developed for non-indigenous species on the basis of the above three parameters and is currently subject to national and international consultation. 

One to two new species per year

Some 83 non-indigenous benthic species were detected in the German North Sea and Baltic Sea between 2009 and 2013. The majority are thought to be secondary introductions, meaning that they are indigenous to a region outside of Europe, first appeared elsewhere in another European country, and spread from there to German waters. One to two species are identified as new non-indigenous species in Germany each year.

Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis). Photo: C. Buschbaum
Chinese mitten crab  (Eriocheir sinensis). Photo: C. Buschbaum