Rapid evolution in introduced species, ‘invasive traits’ and recipient communities: challenges for predicting invasive potential


Correspondence: Kenneth D. Whitney, Rice University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77005, USA. E-mail: kwhitney@rice.edu


The damaging effects of invasive organisms have triggered the development of Invasive Species Predictive Schemes (ISPS). These schemes evaluate biological and historical characteristics of species and prioritize those that should be the focus of exclusion, quarantine, and/or control. However, it is not clear how commonly these schemes take microevolutionary considerations into account. We review the recent literature and find that rapid evolutionary changes are common during invasions. These evolutionary changes include rapid adaptation of invaders to new environments, effects of hybridization, and evolution in recipient communities. Strikingly, we document 38 species in which the specific traits commonly associated with invasive potential (e.g. growth rate, dispersal ability, generation time) have themselves undergone evolutionary change following introduction, in some cases over very short (≤ 10 year) timescales. In contrast, our review of 29 ISPS spanning plant, animal, and microbial taxa shows that the majority (76%) envision invading species and recipient communities as static entities. Those that incorporate evolutionary considerations do so in a limited way. Evolutionary change not only affects the predictive power of these schemes, but also complicates their evaluation. We argue that including the evolutionary potential of species and communities in ISPS is overdue, present several metrics related to evolutionary potential that could be incorporated in ISPS, and provide suggestions for further research on these metrics and their performance. Finally, we argue that the fact of evolutionary change during invasions begs for added caution during risk assessment.