, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 707-716
Date: 29 Aug 2012

Abundance, rarity and invasion debt among exotic species in a patchy ecosystem

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Community assembly through species invasions is a long-term process, for which vital information regarding future trends can be contained in current patterns. Using comparative analyses of native and exotic plant assemblages from meadow patches on islands in British Columbia, Canada, we examined multiple lines of evidence for ‘invasion debt’, a latent expansion of exotic species populations. We show that: (1) short-dispersing species are underrepresented compared to their long-dispersing counterparts in exotic species only; (2) among species that are invasive elsewhere in North America, a greater proportion of long dispersers are common in the study area and a greater proportion of short dispersers are rare; and (3) time since arrival in the study region is positively related to number of occurrences in exotic species. In addition, we show that a suite of exotic species possesses the facility of rapid long-distance dispersal and ability to establish viable populations on even the most isolated and least disturbed patches. While some highly-dispersive exotic species can rapidly colonize new areas, short dispersers appear to exhibit invasion debt, with their potential distributions only being realized in the long term. Removing or even reducing populations of many rapid colonizers could be extremely difficult; however, for species exhibiting patterns most consistent with invasion debt, an opportunity exists for monitoring and removal to help reduce potential competition with native species.