Polar and subpolar regions are fragile environments, where the introduction of alien species may completely change ecosystem dynamics if the alien species become keystone species (e.g. Croll, 2005). The increasing number of human visits, together with climate change, are favouring the introduction and settling of new invaders to these regions, particularly in Antarctica (Hughes et al. 2015). Within this context, the joint use of Species Distribution Models (SDM) –to assess the areas potentially suitable for the aliens– with other measures of the potential to become successful invaders can inform on the need for devoting specific efforts to eradicate these new species before they become naturalized (e.g. Pertierra et al. 2016).
Bazzichetto et al. (2020) use data from a detailed inventory, SDMs and trait data altogether to assess the drivers of invasion success of six alien plants on Possession Island, in the remote sub-Antarctic archipelago of Crozet. SDMs have inherent limitations to describe different aspects of species distributions, including the fundamental niche and, with it, the areas that could host viable populations (Hortal et al. 2012). Therefore, their utility to predict future biological invasions is limited (Jiménez-Valverde et al. 2011). However, they can be powerful tools to describe species range dynamics if they are thoughtfully used by adopting conscious decisions about the techniques and data used, and interpreting carefully the actual implications of their results.
This is what Bazzichetto et al. (2020) do, using General Linear Models (GLM) –a technique well rooted in the original niche-based SDM theory (e.g. Austin 1990)– that can provide a meaningful description of the realized niche within the limits of an adequately sampled region. Further, as alien species share and are similarly affected by several steps of the invasion process (Richardson et al. 2000), these authors model the realized distribution of the six species altogether. This can be done through the recently developed joint-SDM, a group of techniques where the co-occurrence of the modelled species is explicitly taken into account during modelling (e.g. Pollock et al. 2014). Here, the addition of species traits has been identified as a key step to understand the associations of species in space (see Dormann et al. 2018). Bazzichetto et al. (2020) combine their GLM-based SDM for each species with a so-called multi-SDM approach, where they assess together the consistency in the interactions between both species and topographically-driven climate variations, and several plant traits and two key anthropic factors –accessibility from human settlements and distance to hiking paths.
This work is a good example on how a theoretically meaningful SDM approach can provide useful –though perhaps not deep– insights on biological invasions for remote landscapes threatened by biotic homogenization. By combining climate and topographic variables as proxies for the spatial variations in the abiotic conditions regulating plant growth, measures of accessibility, and traits of the plant invaders, Bazzichetto et al. (2020) are able to identify the different effects that the interactions between the potential intensity of propagule dissemination by humans, and the ecological characteristics of the invaders themselves, may have on their invasion success.
The innovation of modelling together species responses is important because it allows dissecting the spatial dynamics of spread of the invaders, which indeed vary according to a handful of their traits. For example, their results show that no all old residents have profited from the larger time of residence in the island, as Poa pratensis is seemingly as dependent of a higher intensity of human activity as the newcomer invaders in general are. According to Bazzichetto et al. trait-based analyses, these differences are apparently related with plant height, as smaller plants disperse more easily. Further, being perennial also provides an advantage for the persistence in areas with less human influence. This puts name, shame and fame to the known influence of plant life history on their dispersal success (Beckman et al. 2018), at least for the particular case of plant invasions in Possession Island.
Of course this approach has limitations, as data on the texture, chemistry and temperature of the soil are not available, and thus were not considered in the analyses. These factors may be critical for both establishment and persistence of small plants in the harsh Antarctic environments, as Bazzichetto et al. (2020) recognize. But all in all, their results provide key insights on which traits may confer alien plants with a higher likelihood of becoming successful invaders in the fragile Antarctic and sub-Antarctic ecosystems. This opens a way for rapid assessments of invasibility, which will help identifying which species in the process of naturalizing may require active contention measures to prevent them from becoming ecological game changers and cause disastrous cascade effects that shift the dynamics of native ecosystems.
Austin, M. P., Nicholls, A. O., and Margules, C. R. (1990). Measurement of the realized qualitative niche: environmental niches of five Eucalyptus species. Ecological Monographs, 60(2), 161-177. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/1943043
Bazzichetto, M., Massol, F., Carboni, M., Lenoir, J., Lembrechts, J. J. and Joly, R. (2020) Once upon a time in the far south: Influence of local drivers and functional traits on plant invasion in the harsh sub-Antarctic islands. bioRxiv, 2020.07.19.210880, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.07.19.210880
Beckman, N. G., Bullock, J. M., and Salguero-Gómez, R. (2018). High dispersal ability is related to fast life-history strategies. Journal of Ecology, 106(4), 1349-1362. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.12989
Croll, D. A., Maron, J. L., Estes, J. A., Danner, E. M., and Byrd, G. V. (2005). Introduced predators transform subarctic islands from grassland to tundra. Science, 307(5717), 1959-1961. doi: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1108485
Dormann, C. F., Bobrowski, M., Dehling, D. M., Harris, D. J., Hartig, F., Lischke, H., Moretti, M. D., Pagel, J., Pinkert, S., Schleuning, M., Schmidt, S. I., Sheppard, C. S., Steinbauer, M. J., Zeuss, D., and Kraan, C. (2018). Biotic interactions in species distribution modelling: 10 questions to guide interpretation and avoid false conclusions. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 27(9), 1004-1016. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.12759
Jiménez-Valverde, A., Peterson, A., Soberón, J., Overton, J., Aragón, P., and Lobo, J. (2011). Use of niche models in invasive species risk assessments. Biological Invasions, 13(12), 2785-2797. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-011-9963-4
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DOI or URL of the preprint: 10.1101/2020.07.19.210880
Version of the preprint: 1
Thanks for sending this nice text to PCI, and sorry for the time taken to get a first decision on it; summer holidays and the difficulties we all are struggling with this year of confinations delayed the process of getting two sound reviews and reviewing the text myself.
Both the two reviewers and myself believe that it is a solid piece of work, and is in general well written. The reviewers highlight some minor problems with yhe understandability of certain parts of the text, including the need for specific clarifications and presenting further information on data and traits. Among these, I would like to highlight the need to be a bit more critical with the limitations of SDM approaches to model invasions. They certainly are one of the best tools we have to forecast the potential areas of impact of invaders, but as one of the reviewers states, their accuracy depends on the quality of the original data (on both species occurrence and climate). Besides that, for many (if not most) species the environmental conditions they occupy now do not comprehend the whole range of conditions where their populations could present positive growth rates (i.e. their potential distributions). This difficults forecasting all the conditions where these species could thrive and become succesfully naturalized during the process of invasion. This limitation does not diminish the value of your study, specially in the extreme conditions of the seldom studied archipelagos you work with. But calls for being cautious about the limitations of the results you obtain. Please try to make clear for the reader these limitations, in the paragraph of the introduction indicated by the reviewer, and also in the discussion, (around current lines 380-400), where you can also indicate the gains of having been able to develop a more mechanistic model using high-quality data on species abundances, as indicated by the other reviewer. You can take a look to Jiménez-Valverde et al (2011) Biological Invasions 13, 2785–2797 or Srivasta et al (2019) CAB Reviews Perspectives in Agriculture Veterinary Science Nutrition and Natural Resources 14:1-13 for a more critical view on the use of SDM to model invasions.
Once these moderate changes are accounted for, I am certain that I will be able to recommend your text for publication on behalf of the PCI Ecology community. Please let us know when you have a revised version of your preprint, to prepare a final recommendation for your work. I'm looking forward to it.
All the best,
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