Biological invasions: Are they dependent on disturbance?

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Environmental Reviews





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We utilize literature surveys to examine the relationship between establishment of exotic species and human or natural disturbances of ecosystems. Of the 133 papers published in 10 ecological journals between 1993 and 1995, 63 reported on field studies involving 299 and 103 successful, nonredundant plant and animal introductions, respectively. Invasions of terrestrial ecosystems dominated (>97%) the surveyed literature. Disturbance was associated with establishment of exotic species in 56% of these studies, though its importance differed among papers describing plants (68%) and animals (28%). Plants species (86%) were significantly more dependent on disturbance for establishment than were animals (12%). However, animals and plants that were dependent on disturbance for establishment were almost equally dependent (58 versus 68%) on it for range expansion. In a second survey, 402 plant and 103 animal taxa were identified that explicitly linked establishment of exotic species to disturbance. Human activities were attributed with establishment of species in 97 and 57% of these cases, respectively. Common mechanisms associated with establishment of exotic animals included ballast water discharge, intentional releases, and residential development. Establishment of exotic plants was associated with animal activities (e.g., grazing, seed introduction), soil disturbance, forestry, fire, agriculture, and human activities. In contrast to invasions theory, our survey indicates that the association between establishment and spread of exotic species and disturbance ought not be assumed a priori. Some animals repeatedly invade new habitats once geographic barriers are circumvented, indicating that communities may be more receptive to exotic species than previously acknowledged. By contrast, introduced plants established most often in disturbed habitats.