Rethinking Biological Invasions as a Metacommunity Problem


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Perhaps more than any other ecological discipline, invasion biology has married the practices of basic science and the application of that science. The conceptual frameworks of population regulation, metapopulations, supply-side ecology, and community assembly have all to some degree informed the regulation, management, and prevention of biological invasions. Invasion biology needs to continue to adopt emerging frameworks and paradigms to progress as both a basic and applied science. This need is urgent as the biological invasion problem continues to worsen. The development of metacommunity theory in the last two decades represents a paradigm-shifting approach to community ecology that emphasizes the multi-scale nature of community assembly and biodiversity regulation. Work on metacommunities has demonstrated that even relatively simple processes at local scales are often heavily influenced by regional-scale processes driven primarily by the dispersal of organisms. Often the influence of dispersal interacts with, or even swamps, the influence of local-scale drivers like environmental conditions and species interactions. An emphasis on dispersal and a focus on multi-scale processes enable metacommunity theory to contribute strongly to the advancement of invasion biology. Propagule pressure of invaders has been identified as one of the most important drivers facilitating invasion, so the metacommunity concept, designed to address how dispersal-driven dynamics affect community structure, can directly address many of the central questions of invasion biology. Here we revisit many of the important concepts and paradigms of biological invasions-propagule pressure, biotic resistance, enemy release, functional traits, neonative species, human-assisted transport,-and view those concepts through the lens of metacommunity theory. In doing so, we accomplish several goals. First, we show that work on metacommunities has generated multiple predictions, models, and the tools that can be directly applied to invasion scenarios. Among these predictions is that invasibility of a community should decrease with both local controls on community assembly, and the dispersal rates of native species. Second, we demonstrate that framing biological invasions in metacommunity terms actually unifies several seemingly disparate concepts central to invasion biology. Finally, we recommend several courses of action for the control and management of invasive species that emerge from applying the concepts of metacommunity theory.



biotic resistance, community ecology, dispersal, invasive species, invasibility, propagule pressure, mass effect hypothesis, sorting strength