Aim Invasion ecology includes many hypotheses. Empirical evidence suggests that most of these can explain the success of some invaders to some degree in some circumstances. If they all are correct, what does this tell us about invasion? We illustrate the major themes in invasion ecology, and provide an overarching framework that helps organize research and foster links among subfields of invasion ecology and ecology more generally.
Methods We review and synthesize 29 leading hypotheses in plant invasion ecology. Structured around propagule pressure (P), abiotic characteristics (A) and biotic characteristics (B), with the additional influence of humans (H) on P, A and B (hereon PAB), we show how these hypotheses fit into one paradigm. P is based on the size and frequency of introductions, A incorporates ecosystem invasibility based on physical conditions, and B includes the characteristics of invading species (invasiveness), the recipient community and their interactions. Having justified the PAB framework, we propose a way in which invasion research could progress.
Results By highlighting the common ground among hypotheses, we show that invasion ecology is encumbered by theoretical redundancy that can be removed through integration. Using both holistic and incremental approaches, we show how the PAB framework can guide research and quantify the relative importance of different invasion mechanisms.
Main conclusions If the prime aim is to identify the main cause of invasion success, we contend that a top-down approach that focuses on PAB maximizes research efficiency. This approach identifies the most influential factors first, and subsequently narrows the number of potential causal mechanisms. By viewing invasion as a multifaceted process that can be partitioned into major drivers and broken down into a series of sequential steps, invasion theory can be rigorously tested, understanding improved and effective weed management techniques identified.