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CONVEY Peter

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18 Dec 2020
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Once upon a time in the far south: Influence of local drivers and functional traits on plant invasion in the harsh sub-Antarctic islands

A meaningful application of species distribution models and functional traits to understand invasion dynamics

Recommended by based on reviews by Peter Convey and Paula Matos

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.

References

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
Hortal, J., Lobo, J. M., and Jiménez-Valverde, A. (2012). Basic questions in biogeography and the (lack of) simplicity of species distributions: Putting species distribution models in the right place. Natureza & Conservação – Brazilian Journal of Nature Conservation, 10(2), 108-118. doi: https://doi.org/10.4322/natcon.2012.029
Hughes, K. A., Pertierra, L. R., Molina-Montenegro, M. A., and Convey, P. (2015). Biological invasions in terrestrial Antarctica: what is the current status and can we respond? Biodiversity and Conservation, 24(5), 1031-1055. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-015-0896-6
Pertierra, L. R., Baker, M., Howard, C., Vega, G. C., Olalla-Tarraga, M. A., and Scott, J. (2016). Assessing the invasive risk of two non-native Agrostis species on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Polar Biology, 39(12), 2361-2371. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-016-1912-3
Pollock, L. J., Tingley, R., Morris, W. K., Golding, N., O'Hara, R. B., Parris, K. M., Vesk, P. A., and McCarthy, M. A. (2014). Understanding co-occurrence by modelling species simultaneously with a Joint Species Distribution Model (JSDM). Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 5(5), 397-406. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.12180
Richardson, D. M., Pyšek, P., Rejmánek, M., Barbour, M. G., Panetta, F. D., and West, C. J. (2000). Naturalization and invasion of alien plants: concepts and definitions. Diversity and Distributions, 6(2), 93-107. doi: https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1472-4642.2000.00083.x

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