Weeds in Paradise: Thoughts on the Invasibility of Tropical Islands

  • Denslow J
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Tropical island ecosystems appear to be especially vulnerable to invasive species as indicated by the often high numbers and percentages of exotic species on oceanic and continental islands. Here I reexamine hypotheses offered to account for the apparently high invasibility of tropical islands and suggest a simple synthesis based on resource availability, propagule supply, and relative competitive abilities of exotic and island species. This review suggests that fundamentally two interacting processes-high net resource availability and poor ability of native species to preempt those resources-make island communities vulnerable to the establishment and spread of alien species. In addition, historically high rates of introduction have provided opportunity in the form of a diverse and abundant propagule rain of exotic species. The combination produces a scenario that is not an optimistic one for island ecosystems. It suggests that these native ecosystems on islands are particularly vulnerable to naturalizing exotics growing on their borders, and that while disturbance from a variety of causes, including pigs, fire, grazing, and natural dieback of the canopy dominants, increases the opportunities for exotic incursions, even intact forests are not immune. Unless these forests are aggressively managed and alien propagule pressure reduced, they will be highly modified by expanding exotic plant populations. Tropical islands are an effective early warning system of the impacts that successive waves of exotic species invasions may cause to isolated ecosystems. As mainland natural areas become fragmented, degraded and depauperate, they acquire many of the ecological attributes of islands, including limited habitat area, missing functional groups, declining species diversity, and disturbed habitats. A better understanding of invasions on islands may improve our attempts to protect both mainland and island ecosystems from the impacts of exotic species.

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  • Julie S. Denslow

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