Population-level traits that affect, and do not affect, invasion success



N. J. Sanders, E-mail: nsanders@utk.edu


What allows some species to successfully colonize a novel environment while others fail? Numerous studies in invasion biology have sought to answer this question, but those studies have tended to focus on traits of species or individuals (e.g. body size, seed size, seed number), and these traits have largely been found to be weak predictors of invasion success. However, characteristics of colonizing populations (e.g. genetic diversity, density, age structure) might also be important for successful establishment, as the authors of a study published in this issue of Molecular Ecology show (Crawford & Whitney 2010). By experimentally manipulating the density and genetic diversity of colonizing populations of Arabidopsis thaliana, the authors found that genetic diversity, but not population density, increased colonization success. Importantly, the effects of genetic diversity on colonization success were both additive and non-additive, suggesting that traits associated with particular genotypes and complimentarity among genotypes contribute to colonization success. This research highlights the importance of considering within-species variation and characteristics of entire populations in predicting colonization success.