Something that has continuously bothered me about our collective narrative concerning invasions has been the conflicting processes determining invader success and impact. Numerous studies (including some of my own) show that invaders are successful often because they are different from residents. That is, they are thought to occupy some unique niche. However, occupying a unique niche means that competition is minimized and these successful invaders should have relatively low impact on residents. Conversely, species that have large impacts are thought to be superior competitors, but why are they able to be so successful?
In a new paper in the Journal of Ecology, Andrew MacDougall, Benjamin Gilbert and Jonathan Levin use Peter Chesson's framework where ability for two species to coexistence (or conversely the strength of competitive exclusion) is a process relative to two factors -the magnitude of fitness differences and the degree of resource use overlap. Here competitive exclusion is rapid if species have a large fitness difference and high resource overlap, and slow if fitness differences are low. Species that are successful because of reduced resource overlap likely have little impact unless there are large fitness inequalities.
If we then view the invasions process on a continuum (see figure), then by determining basic fitness and resource use, we can predict success and impact. This is an exciting development and I hope it inspires a new generation of experiments.
MacDougall, A., Gilbert, B., & Levine, J. (2009). Plant invasions and the niche Journal of Ecology, 97 (4), 609-615 DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01514.x