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The local introduction of strongly interacting species and the loss of geographic variation in species and species interactions

Authors


Craig W. Benkman, Fax: 307-766-5625; E-mail: cbenkman@uwyo.edu

Abstract

Species introductions into nearby communities may seem innocuous, however, these introductions, like long-distance introductions (e.g. trans- and intercontinental), can cause extinctions and alter the evolutionary trajectories of remaining community members. These ‘local introductions’ can also more cryptically homogenize formerly distinct populations within a species. We focus on several characteristics and the potential consequences of local introductions. First, local introductions are commonly successful because the species being introduced is compatible with existing abiotic and biotic conditions; many nearby communities differ because of historical factors and the absence of certain species is simply the result of barriers to dispersal. Moreover, the species with which they interact most strongly (e.g. prey) may have, for example, lost defences making the establishment even more likely. The loss or absence of defences is especially likely when the absent species is a strongly interacting species, which we argue often includes mammals in terrestrial communities. Second, the effects of the introduction may be difficult to detect because the community is likely to converge onto nearby communities that naturally have the introduced species (hence the perceived innocuousness). This homogenization of formerly distinct populations eliminates the geographic diversity of species interactions and the geographic potential for speciation, and reduces regional species diversity. We illustrate these ideas by focusing on the introduction of tree squirrels into formerly squirrel-less forest patches. Such introductions have eliminated incipient species of crossbills (Loxia spp.) co-evolving in arms races with conifers and will likely have considerable impacts on community structure and ecosystem processes.

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