Dispersal in the course of an invasion


Arne W. Nolte, Fax: ++49 4522 736 281; E-mail:


Invasive species receive attention as manifestations of global ecological change and because of the effects that they may have on other organisms. They are commonly discussed in the context of the ecological perturbations or the human activities that permitted the invasion. There is also evidence, that there is an intrinsic component to biological invasions in that evolutionary changes of the invaders themselves can facilitate or limit invasions (Lee 2002; Urban et al. 2007; Van Bocxlaer et al. 2010). Hence, teasing apart whether environmental change or changes of the organism foster invasions is an interesting field of research. Ample evidence for plants and animals documents that ecological change and human activities trigger range expansions and invasions, but questions regarding evolutionary change of invaders remain less explored although there are several reasons to believe it matters. Firstly, rapid evolutionary change is possible in timeframes relevant for contemporary biological invasions (Hendry et al. 2007). Furthermore, population genetic modelling suggests that there are circumstances where the range expansion and colonization of empty spaces in the course of an invasion can induce evolutionary change in a way that is specific to invaders: the process of repeated founding out of marginal populations in the course of a range expansion can shift allele frequencies and has been referred to as allele surfing, which not only affects neutral genetic variance, but also fitness relevant traits (Klopfstein et al. 2006; Travis et al. 2007; Burton & Travis 2008). Importantly, this process poses a null model for evolutionary inference in invasive populations. It predicts conspicuous allele frequency changes in an expanding metapopulation unless migration homogenizes the gene pool. Despite this relevance, ideas about allele surfing rely heavily on modelling although some experimental evidence comes from studies that document the segregation of genetic variants in growing plaques of bacteria (Hallatschek et al. 2007). To date, little empirical data is available that would reveal the migration processes that affect the establishment of gene pools at invasion fronts in natural systems. This aspect sets the study of Bronnenhuber et al. (2011) apart. They quantify migration behind the expansion front of an invading fish and thus provide important baseline data for the interpretation of the emerging patterns of genetic differentiation.