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Towards a More Systemic View of Biological Invasions

By: , Posted on: May 3, 2017

Map of the spatial distribution of species loss. The figure is a planisphere of the distribution of the effect size of the studies included in the meta analysis. The color of each point displays the intensity of the effect size (averaged response ratio). Positive effect refers to values of mean lnRR >0 (white circles); negative effect refers to values of mean lnRR between [-0.15;0]; Decline refers to values of mean lnRR between [-0.35;-0.15]; High decline refers to the values of mean lnRR between [-0.60;-0.35]; and very high decline refers to the values of mean lnRR < -0.60 (black circles). The map was created with Google Earth (Mountain View, CA). From G. Mollot,  J.H. Pantel,  T.N. Romanuk, Chapter Two – The Effects of Invasive Species on the Decline in Species Richness: A Global Meta-Analysis, Advances in Ecological Research, Volume 56, 2017, 61–83

The study of biological invasions has appeal and interest across a wide range of disciplines, both within ecology and at the interface with other fields of the natural and social sciences. The rapid adaptation of invading species has stimulated much work, both theoretical and empirical, in evolutionary ecology, while population geneticists have developed tools to trace invasions back in time and space and functional ecologists have tried to understand what traits make invaders “special”. Mathematical models of species invasions have been developed by interdisciplinary teams comprising mathematicians and physicists while social scientists have simultaneously worked to understand how the public view of invasive species might affect information dissemination and potential management policies. The fears of the ecological perturbations that can result from biological invasions add to a general sense of urgency and a genuine interdisciplinary interest among scientists.

The treatment of species invasions as rare events, which may be explained by a variety of factors such as species traits and niche, human-assisted introductions and environmental conditions, is a recurrent theme in the early invasion literature. However, the importance of the biotic environment, e.g. trophic or symbiotic interactions between species, in explaining the success of invasions and the invasibility of ecosystems has more recently emerged as a cornerstone of predictive invasion biology. Making this link between particular types of interaction and the ability of species to invade has led to the development of intuitive hypotheses, such as the enemy release hypothesis that posits invasions might be facilitated by the absence of predators or pathogens of the invading species in the invaded habitat, and in turn experimental tests. With more than fifty years of models and data on species invasions, recent studies have begun to highlight, clearly, a need to integrate all of these aspects of “interaction” through the use of network approaches if we are to properly understand biological invasions.

Volumes 56 and 57 of Advances in Ecological Research have the goal of synthesizing the current knowledge, ideas and perspectives for a systemic, network-based view of biological invasions. The first of these volumes is focused on conceptual advances, models, reviews and meta-analyses outlining where networks improve our understanding of biological invasions and which research axes are likely to be especially rewarding in the years to come. The second volume goes deeper into the “natural history” of networks of invasion, with special emphasis on certain types of invaders (e.g. parasites) or some particular habitat (e.g. freshwater ecosystems). When taken together, these papers illustrate a fruitful and stimulating framework for future studies and research programs aimed at tackling invasions. It also suggests that building a richer understanding of invasion, which networks afford, could be an important step forward in developing predictive approaches to managing or preventing invasions.

Many of the contributed chapters emerged from discussions and analyses that were done in the COREIDS working group, hosted by the Centre for the Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity (CESAB) in Aix-en-Provence, France, and co-financed by TOTAL and the Fondation pour la Recherche sur la Biodiversité (FRB).

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