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Keywords:

  • community assembly;
  • ecological strategy;
  • exotic species;
  • habitat modification;
  • introduced species;
  • invasion biology;
  • plant traits;
  • threatened species;
  • vacant niche;
  • weed ecology

Summary

  • 1
    Many studies have searched for traits that characterize successful invaders. Unfortunately, very few generalizations have emerged from this work. It seems that the traits of successful invaders are idiosyncratic and context-dependent. Unless we are to study each potential invader in each possible target community individually, we will need a new approach.
  • 2
    We introduce a framework for predicting traits that are likely to confer success in a given ecosystem. Our approach considers the prevailing environmental conditions, the traits of resident species, and the traits of potentially invading species.
  • 3
    Our approach can be applied to ecosystems where the environmental conditions and/or disturbance regime have recently changed, to predict the range of trait space occupied by (i) native species at risk of local extinction, (ii) native species that can persist under the present conditions, and (iii) successful invaders. Our approach can also be used to identify unoccupied viable trait space (i.e. vacant niches) that might be at risk of invasion.
  • 4
    Synthesis. Understanding invasions resulting from rapid changes in environmental conditions and invasions resulting from the colonization of vacant niches would be a major step forward for invasion biology. The conceptual framework described here is not limited to plant invasions: the same approach can be used for any taxa (e.g. insects, fish, mammals and marine invertebrates) and could also be used to predict species responses to environmental change.