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A conceptual framework for comparing species assemblages in native and exotic habitats


  • Dov F. Sax,

  • Brian P. Kinlan,

  • Katherine F. Smith

D. F. Sax, B. P. Kinlan and K. F. Smith, Dept of Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106, (


Exotic (nonnative) species are known to have a wide variety of impacts on native biota. One potential set of impacts that have been poorly studied are the effects of replacing native habitat-providing species with exotic ones, e.g. when native trees that compose a woodland are replaced by an exotic tree plantation. Here we develop a graphical model that can be used to explore how multiple taxonomic components (such as birds, mammals and plants) respond to such changes. We suggest that four categorical responses are possible, with respect to changes in species richness (or other quantitative measures) of taxonomic groups within species assemblages. First, that each taxonomic group compared between habitats will be relatively unchanged, e.g. have equivalent values of species richness. Second, that a decrease (for example in species richness) of one group will be compensated for by an increase (in species richness) of another group. Third, that one or more groups will decrease without any compensated increases in other groups. Fourth, that one or more groups will increase without any compensated decreases in other groups. We provide empirical support for 3 of these 4 responses, with respect to measures of species richness, with much evidence for equivalency between habitats. These types of comparisons should provide a valuable tool for evaluating 1) the efficacy of environmental mitigation efforts that artificially create or restore habitats and 2) the types of changes that have occurred over time or across space as native habitat-producing species are replaced by exotic ones. Finally, this conceptual framework should help to broaden the range of possible changes considered by ecologists who study the impacts of exotic species.