Variability helps mammals to become invasive

April 8, 2015, Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)
Many mammal species are highly variable in their body size, here illustrated by the sizes of rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus, upper row) and hare (Lepus europaeus, lower row) skulls. The picture was taken with skulls from the collection of the Estación Biológica de Doñana-CSIC, Sevilla, Spain. Credit: Héctor Garrido

From the time humans began discovering and conquering new continents, they also started transporting animals and plants around the world and releasing them in locations where they never occurred before. Most of these alien species died out quickly, but many established populations and some even multiplied and became invasive, causing tremendous economic and environmental harm. In a recently published article in the journal The American Naturalist, scientists from Spain, Switzerland and Germany argue that successful invaders are particularly variable and can therefore adapt to many different environmental conditions.

In Australia, for example, rabbits have devastated large areas of fertile land resulting in millions of dollars of damage to crops each year and the extinction of many . In Europe, there are about 13,000 known , which cost more than €12 billion (US $14 billion) in damages each year.

To prevent further problems, scientists have searched for general traits that could characterize successful invaders. Unfortunately, this search has had limited success. In a new study published in the journal The American Naturalist, Manuela González-Suárez (Estación Biológica de Doñana CSIC, Spain), Sven Bacher (University of Fribourg, Switzerland) and Jonathan Jeschke (Technische Universität München, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries and Freie Universität Berlin, Germany) suggest that previous research largely failed to identify predictive factors for invasion success because it generally focused on average species traits. The authors argue that species exposed to a novel environment will have higher chances of surviving if they are variable and can therefore adapt to many different .

The study analyzes a global dataset of introductions of mammals to locations outside their native ranges and shows that species with large variation in body size establish more often. These findings can help predict and prevent new invasions, for example by focusing control measures on the most variable species. In addition, the study can also help improve the control of biological pest organisms or the reintroduction of species of conservation concern.

Explore further: Non-native plants are 'not a threat' to floral diversity

More information: "Intraspecific trait variation is correlated with establishment success of alien mammals." The American Naturalist, DOI: 10.1086/681105

Related Stories

Non-native plants are 'not a threat' to floral diversity

March 23, 2015

Non-native plants are commonly listed as invasive species, presuming that they cause harm to the environment at both global and regional scales. New research by scientists at the University of York has shown that non-native ...

EU must take urgent action on invasive species

April 16, 2014

The EU must take urgent action to halt the spread of invasive species that are threatening native plants and animals across Europe, according to a scientist from Queen's University Belfast.

Addressing feral cats' diet may help protect native species

February 2, 2015

Because reducing the impacts of feral cats—domestic cats that have returned to the wild—is a priority for conservation efforts across the globe, a research team recently reviewed the animals' diet across Australia and ...

11,000 alien species invade Europe

November 20, 2008

For the first time it is now possible to get a comprehensive overview of which alien species are present in Europe, their impacts and consequences for the environment and society. More than 11,000 alien species have been ...

Recommended for you

Researchers make coldest quantum gas of molecules

February 21, 2019

JILA researchers have made a long-lived, record-cold gas of molecules that follow the wave patterns of quantum mechanics instead of the strictly particle nature of ordinary classical physics. The creation of this gas boosts ...

Sculpting stable structures in pure liquids

February 21, 2019

Oscillating flow and light pulses can be used to create reconfigurable architecture in liquid crystals. Materials scientists can carefully engineer concerted microfluidic flows and localized optothermal fields to achieve ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2015
Nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled morphological and behavioral phenotypes are linked by microRNAs to adaptive radiation and to all of extant biodiversity.

For an example of the role of RNA-mediated events that link metabolic networks to genetic networks, see: "Large Numbers of Novel miRNAs Originate from DNA Transposons and Are Coincident with a Large Species Radiation in Bats" http://mbe.oxford...abstract

For comparison: "...genomic conservation and constraint-breaking mutation is the ultimate source of all biological innovations and the enormous amount of biodiversity in this world. In this view of evolution there is no need of considering teleological elements" (p. 199).

Please join the serious scientists who are "Combating Evolution to Fight Disease" http://www.scienc...88.short

See also:

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.