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Keywords:

  • Bacteria;
  • dispersal;
  • diversity;
  • free-living;
  • fungi;
  • global change;
  • invasive species;
  • invasiveness;
  • microbial biogeography;
  • protists;
  • symbiotic;
  • traits

Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 1560–1572

Abstract

Although the number of studies on invasive plants and animals has risen exponentially, little is known about invasive microbes, especially non-pathogenic ones. Microbial invasions by viruses, bacteria, fungi and protists occur worldwide but are much harder to detect than invasions by macroorganisms. Invasive microbes have the potential to significantly alter community structure and ecosystem functioning in diverse terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Consequently, increased attention is needed on non-pathogenic invasive microbes, both free-living and symbiotic, and their impacts on communities and ecosystems. Major unknowns include the characteristics that make microbes invasive and properties of the resident communities and the environment that facilitate invasions. A comparison of microbial invasions with invasions of macroorganisms should provide valuable insights into general principles that apply to invasions across all domains of life and to taxon-specific invasion patterns. Invasive microbes appear to possess traits thought to be common in many invasive macroorganisms: high growth rate and resource utilization efficiency, and superior competitive abilities. Invading microorganisms are often similar to native species, but with enhanced performance traits, and tend to spread in lower diversity communities. Global change can exacerbate microbial invasions; therefore, they will likely increase in the future.