, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 3-19

Impact: Toward a Framework for Understanding the Ecological Effects of Invaders

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Abstract

Although ecologists commonly talk about the impacts of nonindigenous species, little formal attention has been given to defining what we mean by impact, or connecting ecological theory with particular measures of impact. The resulting lack of generalizations regarding invasion impacts is more than an academic problem; we need to be able to distinguish invaders with minor effects from those with large effects in order to prioritize management efforts. This paper focuses on defining, evaluating, and comparing a variety of measures of impact drawn from empirical examples and theoretical reasoning. We begin by arguing that the total impact of an invader includes three fundamental dimensions: range, abundance, and the per-capita or per-biomass effect of the invader. Then we summarize previous approaches to measuring impact at different organizational levels, and suggest some new approaches. Reviewing mathematical models of impact, we argue that theoretical studies using community assembly models could act as a basis for better empirical studies and monitoring programs, as well as provide a clearer understanding of the relationship among different types of impact. We then discuss some of the particular challenges that come from the need to prioritize invasive species in a management or policy context. We end with recommendations about how the field of invasion biology might proceed in order to build a general framework for understanding and predicting impacts. In particular, we advocate studies designed to explore the correlations among different measures: Are the results of complex multivariate methods adequately captured by simple composite metrics such as species richness? How well are impacts on native populations correlated with impacts on ecosystem functions? Are there useful bioindicators for invasion impacts? To what extent does the impact of an invasive species depend on the system in which it is measured? Three approaches would provide new insights in this line of inquiry: (1) studies that measure impacts at multiple scales and multiple levels of organization, (2) studies that synthesize currently available data on different response variables, and (3) models designed to guide empirical work and explore generalities.