Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 407–418
A general understanding of biological invasions will provide insights into fundamental ecological and evolutionary problems and contribute to more efficient and effective prediction, prevention and control of invasions. We review recent papers that have proposed conceptual frameworks for invasion biology. These papers offer important advances and signal a maturation of the field, but a broad synthesis is still lacking. Conceptual frameworks for invasion do not require invocation of unique concepts, but rather should reflect the unifying principles of ecology and evolutionary biology. A conceptual framework should incorporate multicausality, include interactions between causal factors and account for lags between various stages. We emphasize the centrality of demography in invasions, and distinguish between explaining three of the most important characteristics by which we recognize invasions: rapid local population increase, monocultures or community dominance, and range expansion. As a contribution towards developing a conceptual synthesis of invasions based on these criteria, we outline a framework that explicitly incorporates consideration of the fundamental ecological and evolutionary processes involved. The development of a more inclusive and mechanistic conceptual framework for invasion should facilitate quantitative and testable evaluation of causal factors, and can potentially lead to a better understanding of the biology of invasions.