Researchers revise Darwin's thinking on invasive species

December 2, 2013

For more than a century and a half, researchers interested in invasive species have looked to Charles Darwin and what has come to be called his "naturalization conundrum." If an invader is closely related to species in a new area, he wrote in his landmark The Origin of Species, it should find a more welcoming habitat. On the other hand, it could expect competition from the related species and attacks from its natural enemies like predators and parasites.

But researchers writing in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say the relatedness of native and is not as important as the details of how they go about doing their business.

"We thought we understood how things happened, but maybe they didn't happen that way," says Emily Jones, a Rice University researcher in evolutionary ecology who started pondering Darwin's conundrum while a post-doctoral researcher in the Washington State University lab of Richard Gomulkiewicz. She is the lead author of the Proceedings paper with Gomulkiewicz and Scott Nuismer of the University of Idaho.

The model they've developed in analyzing Darwin's conundrum could lead to a new way of gauging the potential of , a major ecological and economic concern as plants and animals have spread into new habitats around the planet.

Darwin focused on ecological relationships between species. But Jones and her colleagues focused on species' phenotypes, characteristics that emerge as a plant or animal's genes interact with the environment. In the process, they found that ecological relationships alone are a weak predictor of an invader's success.

To be sure, says Jones, researchers will want to see what species an invader is related to and what interactions that species has that are important for understanding its survival.

But then, she says, "you'd want to look at how those interactions work," comparing the mechanism of their interaction and the traits they share.

Explore further: Seedlings thrive with distant relatives, seeds with close family

More information: Revisiting Darwin's conundrum reveals a twist on the relationship between phylogenetic distance and invisibility,

Related Stories

Why closely related species do not eat the same things

June 24, 2013

Closely related species consume the same resources less often than more remotely related species. In fact, it is the competition for resources, and not their kinship, which determines the food sources of the species of a ...

New study tests 90-year old hybridisation theory

November 5, 2013

( —Massey University researchers have the first convincing evidence that interbreeding between closely related species (hybridisation) can aid plants during periods of environmental change.

Invasive sparrows immune cells sharpen as they spread

November 20, 2013

When invasive species move into new areas, they often lose their natural enemies, including the microbes that make them sick. But new research from evolutionary biologists at the University of South Florida has found that ...

The last croak for Darwin's frog

November 20, 2013

Deadly amphibian disease chytridiomycosis has caused the extinction of Darwin's frogs, believe scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Universidad Andrés Bello (UNAB), Chile.

Recommended for you

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.