Are the speeds of species invasions regulated? The importance of null models

  • Starrfelt J
  • Kokko H
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Understanding the mechanisms and patterns that govern the invasion of species is essential for coping with global change of the biological world. A recent study highlights the possibility, based on data from a wide range of different taxa, that the invasion speed of species could be governed by a regulatory process. In principle, it is possible that mechanisms such as Allee effects could cause the invasion fronts to be regulated, such that the change in the rate of spread is negatively related to the current rate. This is very similar to how some populations are regulated around an equilibrium size, and finding the regulation structure if true, is of both pure and applied interest. However, here we will argue that the methods used so far are incomplete, thus even though there is a theoretical possibility that the speed of species invasions are regulated, more scrutiny is needed for its detection. Analysing changes of the ratio of current and past rate of spread against current ratios may give the impression of regulation in null models that are in fact unregulated. In addition we show that the apparent pattern is highly influenced by the spatial scale of investigation. Our results show that detecting regulatory patterns in species invasions is similarly non-trivial as is detecting density-dependence per se, but necessary, given the importance of this problem.

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