Introduction et invasion de l'algue tropicale Caulerpa taxifolia en Méditerranée nord-occidentale
The tropical alga Caulerpa taxifolia (Vahl) C. Agardh has been displayed over the last fifteen years in tropical aquaria at the Oceanographic Museum, Monaco. Its accidental introduction into the natural environment dates from 1984. It developed first in the sea immediately below the museum, and resisted winter temperatures of 11 to 13-degrees-C. Gradually the population spread over all types of substrate, including rock, sand and mud, and over a wide range of depth, 3 to 35 m, on this relatively exposed site. In summer 1990 we became aware of its presence both to the east and to the west of Monaco. To the east, it now occurs on the whole of the eastern side of Cap Martin (3 km from Monaco) and is spreading over the west face. To the west we have observed it 150 km from Monaco near Toulon. In those sites which it colonized three years ago, its coverage now reaches 100 % over extensive areas in depths between 5 and 25 m. Areas supporting stands of Cymodocea nodosa and Posidonia oceanica are covered by fronds of C. taxifolia, which measure up to 45 cm in length. The development characteristics of the species in the Mediterranean, such as population density and frond length, are different from those in its native tropical areas. The rapid spreading of this alga is probably due both to sexual reproduction and to efficient vegetative reproduction. At the rate of spreading observed at present, further rapid extension of its range is to be feared. Moreover, wherever it becomes established, it considerably modifies the vegetal communities in the infralittoral zone. This species, like most of those in the genus Caulerpa, contains the toxin, caulerpenyn, which may play a role against other organisms such as grazers, epiphytes and competitors. This alga will be eaten only by certain animals such as the Mediterranean bream or saupe, Sarpa salpa. The toxin accumulated by fish which eat Caulerpa can render them unsuitable for human consumption, as their ingestion produces symptoms similar to those of Ciguatera poisoning. Never has a species so potentially harmful to the marine population been introduced into the Mediterranean. This biological pollution raises the major international problem of direct discharge of water having passed through aquaria or mariculture installations containing exotic species. As importing exotic marine species becomes technically easier, the lack of regulation risks further similar accidents concerning not only algae, but also metazoa and micro-organisms.