Biotic indirect effects: a neglected concept in invasion biology


*Correspondence: Eve M. White, Alan Fletcher Research Station, Department of Natural Resources, Mines and CRC for Australian Weed Management, PO Box 36, Sherwood, Qld 4075 Australia. Tel.: +61-73375 0734; Fax: +61-73379 6815; E-mail:


Indirect effects involve more than two species and are defined as how one species alters the effect that another species has on a third. These complex interactions are often overlooked in studies of interactions between alien and native species, and their role in influencing biological invasions has been rarely considered. Based on a comprehensive review of the invasion biology literature, we examine the evidence for the occurrence of four of the most commonly documented indirect effects (apparent competition, indirect mutualism/commensalism, exploitative competition, and trophic cascades) in the invasion process. Studies investigating indirect effects in the context of invasion biology are relatively rare, but have been increasing in recent years, and there are sufficient examples to indicate that this kind of interaction is likely to be more common than is currently recognized. Whether indirect interactions are mediated by an alien or a native species, and whether they occur between ecologically similar or dissimilar alien and native species, depends in part on the type of interaction considered and no predictable patterns were detected in the literature. Further empirical studies will help to elucidate such patterns. At this stage, the inherent unpredictability of indirect interactions means that their impacts in relation to invasions are particularly challenging for land managers to deal with, and their role in invasions is a complex, but is a valuable area of investigation for researchers.