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Keywords:

  • plant invasions;
  • invasibility;
  • resource availability;
  • fluctuating resources;
  • disturbance;
  • exotic species

Summary

1 The invasion of habitats by non-native plant and animal species is a global phenomenon with potentially grave consequences for ecological, economic, and social systems. Unfortunately, to date, the study of invasions has been primarily anecdotal and resistant to generalization.

2 Here, we use insights from experiments and from long-term monitoring studies of vegetation to propose a new theory in which fluctuation in resource availability is identified as the key factor controlling invasibility, the susceptibility of an environment to invasion by non-resident species. The theory is mechanistic and quantitative in nature leading to a variety of testable predictions.

3 We conclude that the elusive nature of the invasion process arises from the fact that it depends upon conditions of resource enrichment or release that have a variety of causes but which occur only intermittently and, to result in invasion, must coincide with availability of invading propagules.