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Concept: Invasive species


The viability of many species has been jeopardized by numerous negative factors over the centuries, but climate change is predicted to accelerate and increase the pressure of many of these threats, leading to extinctions. The Hawaiian honeycreepers, famous for their spectacular adaptive radiation, are predicted to experience negative responses to climate change, given their susceptibility to introduced disease, the strong linkage of disease distribution to climatic conditions, and their current distribution. We document the rapid collapse of the native avifauna on the island of Kaua'i that corresponds to changes in climate and disease prevalence. Although multiple factors may be pressuring the community, we suggest that a tipping point has been crossed in which temperatures in forest habitats at high elevations have reached a threshold that facilitates the development of avian malaria and its vector throughout these species' ranges. Continued incursion of invasive weeds and non-native avian competitors may be facilitated by climate change and could also contribute to declines. If current rates of decline continue, we predict multiple extinctions in the coming decades. Kaua'i represents an early warning for the forest bird communities on the Maui and Hawai'i islands, as well as other species around the world that are trapped within a climatic space that is rapidly disappearing.

Concepts: Hawaii, Climate, Climate change, Atmospheric pressure, Invasive species, Hawaiian Islands, Island, Hawaiian language


BACKGROUND: Biodiversity loss and species invasions are among the most important human-induced global changes. Moreover, these two processes are interlinked as ecosystem invasibility is considered to increase with decreasing biodiversity. In temperate grasslands, earthworms serve as important ecosystem engineers making up the majority of soil faunal biomass. Herbivore behaviour has been shown to be affected by earthworms, however it is unclear whether these effects differ with the composition of plant communities. To test this we conducted a mesocosm experiment where we added earthworms (Annelida: Lumbricidae) to planted grassland communities with different plant species composition (3 vs. 12 plant spp.). Plant communities had equal plant densities and ratios of the functional groups grasses, non-leguminous forbs and legumes. Later, Arion vulgaris slugs (formerly known as A. lusitanicus; Gastropoda: Arionidae) were added and allowed to freely choose among the available plant species. This slug species is listed among the 100 worst alien species in Europe. We hypothesized that (i) the food choice of slugs would be altered by earthworms' specific effects on the growth and nutrient content of plant species, (ii) slug herbivory will be less affected by earthworms in plant communities containing more plant species than in those with fewer plant species because of a more readily utilization of plant resources making the impacts of earthworms less pronounced. RESULTS: Slug herbivory was significantly affected by both earthworms and plant species composition. Slugs damaged 60% less leaves when earthworms were present, regardless of the species composition of the plant communities. Percent leaf area consumed by slugs was 40% lower in communities containing 12 plant species; in communities containing only three species earthworms increased slug leaf area consumption. Grasses were generally avoided by slugs. Leaf length and number of tillers was increased in mesocosms containing more plant species but little influenced by earthworms. Overall shoot biomass was decreased, root biomass increased in plant communities with more plant species. Earthworms decreased total shoot biomass in mesocosms with more plant species but did not affect biomass production of individual functional groups. Plant nitrogen concentrations across three focus species were 18% higher when earthworms were present; composition of plant communities did not affect plant quality. CONCLUSIONS: Given the important role that both herbivores and earthworms play in structuring plant communities the implications of belowground-aboveground linkages should more broadly be considered when investigating global change effects on ecosystems.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Plant, Animal, Affect, Grassland, Herbivore, Earthworm, Invasive species


Whether introduced species invasions pose a major threat to biodiversity is hotly debated. Much of this debate is fueled by recent findings that competition from introduced organisms has driven remarkably few plant species to extinction. Instead, native plant species in invaded ecosystems are often found in refugia: patchy, marginal habitats unsuitable to their nonnative competitors. However, whether the colonization and extinction dynamics of these refugia allow long-term native persistence is uncertain. Of particular concern is the possibility that invasive plants may induce an extinction debt in the native flora, where persistence over the short term masks deterministic extinction trajectories. We examined how invader impacts on landscape structure influence native plant persistence by combining recently developed quantitative techniques for evaluating metapopulation persistence with field measurements of an invaded plant community. We found that European grass invasion of an edaphically heterogeneous California landscape has greatly decreased the likelihood of the persistence of native metapopulations. It does so via two main pathways: (i) decreasing the size of native refugia, which reduces seed production and increases local extinction, and (ii) eroding the dispersal permeability of the matrix between refugia, which reduces their connectivity. Even when native plant extinction is the deterministic outcome of invasion, the time to extinction can be on the order of hundreds of years. We conclude that the relatively short time since invasion in many parts of the world is insufficient to observe the full impact of plant invasions on native biodiversity.

Concepts: Plant, Ecology, Term, Extinction, Invasive species, Introduced species, Biogeography, Habitat fragmentation


Harmonia axyridis has been introduced as a biological control agent in Europe and the USA. Since its introduction, it has established and spread, and it is now regarded as an invasive alien species. It has been suggested that intraguild predation is especially important for the invasion success of H. axyridis. The aim of this study was to compare the intraguild predation behaviour of three ladybird species (Coccinella septempunctata, Adalia bipunctata, and H. axyridis). Predation behaviour was investigated in semi-field experiments on small lime trees (Tilia platyphyllos). Two fourth-instar larvae placed on a tree rarely made contact during 3-hour observations. When placed together on a single leaf in 23%-43% of the observations at least one contact was made. Of those contacts 0%-27% resulted in an attack. Harmonia axyridis attacked mostly heterospecifics, while A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata attacked heterospecifics as often as conspecifics. In comparison with A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata, H. axyridis was the most successful intraguild predator as it won 86% and 44% of heterospecific battles against A. bipunctata and C. septempunctata respectively, whilst A. bipunctata won none of the heterospecific battles and C. septempunctata won only the heterospecific battles against A. bipunctata. Coccinella septempunctata dropped from a leaf earlier and more often than the other two species but was in some cases able to return to the tree, especially under cloudy conditions. The frequency with which a species dropped did not depend on the species the larva was paired with. The results of these semi-field experiments confirm that H. axyridis is a strong intraguild predator as a consequence of its aggressiveness and good defence against predation from heterospecific species. The fact that H. axyridis is such a strong intraguild predator helps to explain its successful establishment as invasive alien species in Europe and the USA.

Concepts: Biological pest control, Invasive species, Introduced species, Coccinellidae, Harmonia axyridis, Tilia, Coccinella septempunctata, Biological pest control agents


The calcareous sponge Paraleucilla magna, originally observed along the Brazilian coast (Atlantic Ocean), is the only allochthonous invasive species of Porifera reported in the Mediterranean Sea. A 1-year investigation of the population dynamics and life-cycle of this exotic species in the Mar Piccolo di Taranto (southern Italy, central Mediterranean Sea) has provided a good opportunity to test how environmental variations can influence its life-cycle and to ascertain what strategy can be adopted to successfully colonize a new environment. In the Mar Piccolo di Taranto, P. magna exhibits marked temporal changes in biomass. The studied specimens reproduce almost all year round, showing a seasonal pattern that peaks during warm months. This prolonged sexual activity allows P. magna to continuously produce young specimens, with repeated recruitment events taking place throughout the year, thus offsetting the seasonal mortality of adult specimens. This r-strategy enables the non-indigenous sponge to achieve a high degree of maintenance over relatively long periods (ten years at least).

Concepts: Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Ocean, Italy, Invasive species, Marine debris, Introduced species


Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are known to increase water clarity and affect ecosystem processes in invaded lakes. During the last decade, the conspecific quagga mussels (D. rostriformis bugensis) have displaced zebra mussels in many ecosystems including shallow lakes such as Oneida Lake, New York. In this study, an eight-week mesocosm experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that the displacement of zebra mussels by quagga mussels leads to further decreases in phytoplankton and increases in water clarity resulting in increases in benthic algae. We found that the presence of zebra mussels alone (ZM), quagga mussels alone (QM), or an equal number of both species (ZQ) reduced total phosphorus (TP) and phytoplankton Chl a. Total suspended solids (TSS) was reduced in ZM and ZQ treatments. Light intensity at the sediment surface was higher in all three mussel treatments than in the no-mussel controls but there was no difference among the mussel treatments. There was no increase in benthic algae biomass in the mussel treatments compared with the no-mussel controls. Importantly, there was no significant difference in nutrient (TP, soluble reactive phosphorus and NO3-) levels, TSS, phytoplankton Chl a, benthic algal Chl a, or light intensity on the sediment surface between ZM, QM and ZQ treatments. These results confirm the strong effect of both mussel species on water clarity and indicate that the displacement of zebra mussel by an equivalent biomass of quagga mussel is not likely to lead to further increases in water clarity, at least for the limnological conditions, including summer temperature, tested in this experiment.

Concepts: Invasive species, Mussel, Great Lakes, Zebra mussel, Quagga mussel, Dreissenidae, Dreissena, Lake Erie


Invasive species present significant threats to global agriculture, although how the magnitude and distribution of the threats vary between countries and regions remains unclear. Here, we present an analysis of almost 1,300 known invasive insect pests and pathogens, calculating the total potential cost of these species invading each of 124 countries of the world, as well as determining which countries present the greatest threat to the rest of the world given their trading partners and incumbent pool of invasive species. We find that countries vary in terms of potential threat from invasive species and also their role as potential sources, with apparently similar countries sometimes varying markedly depending on specifics of agricultural commodities and trade patterns. Overall, the biggest agricultural producers (China and the United States) could experience the greatest absolute cost from further species invasions. However, developing countries, in particular, Sub-Saharan African countries, appear most vulnerable in relative terms. Furthermore, China and the United States represent the greatest potential sources of invasive species for the rest of the world. The analysis reveals considerable scope for ongoing redistribution of known invasive pests and highlights the need for international cooperation to slow their spread.

Concepts: Agriculture, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Insect, United States, California, Invasive species, Great Lakes


Invasive vertebrate predators are directly responsible for the extinction or decline of many vertebrate species, but their indirect impacts often go unmeasured, potentially leading to an underestimation of their full impact. When invasives extirpate functionally important mutualists, dependent species are likely to be affected as well. Here, we show that the invasive brown treesnake, directly responsible for the extirpation of forest birds from the island of Guam, is also indirectly responsible for a severe decline in plant recruitment as a result of disrupting the fruit-frugivore mutualism. To assess the impact of frugivore loss on plants, we compare seed dispersal and recruitment of two fleshy-fruited tree species on Guam and three nearby islands with intact disperser communities. We conservatively estimate that the loss of frugivorous birds caused by the brown treesnake may have caused a 61-92% decline in seedling recruitment. This case study highlights the potential for predator invasions to cause indirect, pervasive and easily overlooked interaction cascades.

Concepts: Plant, Symbiosis, Vertebrate, Plant morphology, Extinction, Invasive species, Mutualism, Seed dispersal


Alien species are a major component of human-induced environmental change. Variation in the numbers of alien species found in different areas is likely to depend on a combination of anthropogenic and environmental factors, with anthropogenic factors affecting the number of species introduced to new locations, and when, and environmental factors influencing how many species are able to persist there. However, global spatial and temporal variation in the drivers of alien introduction and species richness remain poorly understood. Here, we analyse an extensive new database of alien birds to explore what determines the global distribution of alien species richness for an entire taxonomic class. We demonstrate that the locations of origin and introduction of alien birds, and their identities, were initially driven largely by European (mainly British) colonialism. However, recent introductions are a wider phenomenon, involving more species and countries, and driven in part by increasing economic activity. We find that, globally, alien bird species richness is currently highest at midlatitudes and is strongly determined by anthropogenic effects, most notably the number of species introduced (i.e., “colonisation pressure”). Nevertheless, environmental drivers are also important, with native and alien species richness being strongly and consistently positively associated. Our results demonstrate that colonisation pressure is key to understanding alien species richness, show that areas of high native species richness are not resistant to colonisation by alien species at the global scale, and emphasise the likely ongoing threats to global environments from introductions of species.

Concepts: Environment, Bird, Introduction, Globalization, Invasive species, Introduced species, European Starling, Indigenous


Freshwater fishes are highly vulnerable to human-caused climate change. Because quantitative data on status and trends are unavailable for most fish species, a systematic assessment approach that incorporates expert knowledge was developed to determine status and future vulnerability to climate change of freshwater fishes in California, USA. The method uses expert knowledge, supported by literature reviews of status and biology of the fishes, to score ten metrics for both (1) current status of each species (baseline vulnerability to extinction) and (2) likely future impacts of climate change (vulnerability to extinction). Baseline and climate change vulnerability scores were derived for 121 native and 43 alien fish species. The two scores were highly correlated and were concordant among different scorers. Native species had both greater baseline and greater climate change vulnerability than did alien species. Fifty percent of California’s native fish fauna was assessed as having critical or high baseline vulnerability to extinction whereas all alien species were classified as being less or least vulnerable. For vulnerability to climate change, 82% of native species were classified as highly vulnerable, compared with only 19% for aliens. Predicted climate change effects on freshwater environments will dramatically change the fish fauna of California. Most native fishes will suffer population declines and become more restricted in their distributions; some will likely be driven to extinction. Fishes requiring cold water (<22°C) are particularly likely to go extinct. In contrast, most alien fishes will thrive, with some species increasing in abundance and range. However, a few alien species will likewise be negatively affected through loss of aquatic habitats during severe droughts and physiologically stressful conditions present in most waterways during summer. Our method has high utility for predicting vulnerability to climate change of diverse fish species. It should be useful for setting conservation priorities in many different regions.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Animal, Future, Endangered species, Freshwater fish, Invasive species, Introduced species, Biogeography