Unraveling the Life History of Successful Invaders

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Science  03 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6094, pp. 580-583
DOI: 10.1126/science.1221523

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Successful Invaders

Invasive species have been integrated into ecosystems worldwide, and in many cases can cause significant ecological and economic damage. Not all non-native species, however, become invasive species; thus there has been much effort put toward understanding what makes a non-native “colonizer” an invader. It has been thought that, in general, successful invaders tend to be those that produce a large amount of offspring over a very short period of time, however, this pattern is absent in many successful invaders. Sol et al. (p. 580) looked at over 2700 invasions by bird species across the world and found no relationship between population growth rate and invasion success, although rapidly reproducing species could have an advantage when the new environment resembled their native environment. Furthermore, in many cases, those species that could prioritize survival, and delay reproduction, were much more successful than those forced to reproduce regardless of environmental conditions.


Despite considerable current interest in biological invasions, the common life-history characteristics of successful invaders remain elusive. The widely held hypothesis that successful invaders have high reproductive rates has received little empirical support; however, alternative possibilities are seldom considered. Combining a global comparative analysis of avian introductions (>2700 events) with demographic models and phylogenetic comparative methods, we show that although rapid population growth may be advantageous during invasions under certain circumstances, more generally successful invaders are characterized by life-history strategies in which they give priority to future rather than current reproduction. High future breeding expectations reduce the costs of reproductive failure under uncertain conditions and increase opportunities to explore the environment and respond to novel ecological pressures.

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