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Functional distance and establishment of non-native species with complex life cycles


More than 80% of animals have complex life cycles and undergo distinct changes in ecology and morphology during development. The strength and type of factors regulating each life-stage may differ as an organism may occupy different niches during ontogeny. We examined the functional distance at larval and adult life-stages of two non-native anurans (Green Tree Frog [Hyla cinerea] and Bullfrog [Lithobates catesbeianus]) that have established in a Chihuahuan Desert anuran assemblage in Big Bend National Park. Both life stages of both non-native species occupied niche space outside of the native assemblage. At the larval stage, the ability of the tadpoles to utilize permanent aquatic habitats and coexist with predatory fishes differentiated the non-native species from the majority of the native species that are restricted to temporary pools. At the post-metamorphic life stage, each species appears to have established by exploiting unoccupied habitat and trophic niches in the recipient community. The arboreal habits of H. cinerea may enable it to utilize resources in microhabitats that are otherwise not used by native species because arboreal frogs are absent from this native assemblage. The large body size of post-metamorphic L. catesbeianus may enable it to utilize larger food resources that are otherwise unavailable to the smaller-bodied natives. Separate comparison of larval and adult functional traits between non-natives and the native community may help predict their potential establishment or invasion success as well as aid in the development of stage-specific control or eradication efforts.

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We thank L.A. Fitzgerald and T.J. Hibbitts for access to specimens, and L.E. Springer and A. Fields for measuring specimens. We also thank N.F. Angeli, E. Buchholtz, K. Chyn, E. Cunha, J. Kolbe, and D. Walkup and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christopher M. Schalk.

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Schalk, C.M., Montaña, C.G., Kralman, K. et al. Functional distance and establishment of non-native species with complex life cycles. Biol Invasions 20, 1945–1952 (2018).

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  • Amphibians
  • Larva
  • Life history
  • Morphospace
  • Functional traits
  • Ontogenetic niche shift