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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Aug 12;105 Suppl 1:11490-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0802290105. Epub 2008 Aug 11.

Colloquium paper: species invasions and extinction: the future of native biodiversity on islands.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


Predation by exotic species has caused the extinction of many native animal species on islands, whereas competition from exotic plants has caused few native plant extinctions. Exotic plant addition to islands is highly nonrandom, with an almost perfect 1 to 1 match between the number of naturalized and native plant species on oceanic islands. Here, we evaluate several alternative implications of these findings. Does the consistency of increase in plant richness across islands imply that a saturation point in species richness has been reached? If not, should we expect total plant richness to continue to increase as new species are added? Finally, is the rarity of native plant extinctions to date a misleading measure of the impact of past invasions, one that hides an extinction debt that will be paid in the future? By analyzing historical records, we show that the number of naturalized plant species has increased linearly over time on many individual islands. Further, the mean ratio of naturalized to native plant species across islands has changed steadily for nearly two centuries. These patterns suggest that many more species will become naturalized on islands in the future. We also discuss how dynamics of invasion bear upon alternative saturation scenarios and the implications these scenarios have for the future retention or extinction of native plant species. Finally, we identify invasion-motivated research gaps (propagule pressure, time-lags to extinction, abundance shifts, and loss of area) that can aid in forecasting extinction and in developing a more comprehensive theory of species extinctions.

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