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Am Nat. 2011 Jan;177(1):18-28. doi: 10.1086/657438. Epub 2010 Nov 30.

Density dependence slows invader spread in fragmented landscapes.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA.

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  • Am Nat. 2011 Apr;177(4):548.


Patchiness is a defining characteristic of most natural and anthropogenic habitats, yet much of our understanding of how invasions spread has come from models of spatially homogeneous environments. Except for populations with Allee effects, an invader's growth rate when rare and dispersal determine its spread velocity; intraspecific competition has little to no influence. How this result might change with landscape patchiness, however, is poorly understood. We used simulation models and their analytical approximations to explore the effect of density dependence on the spread of annual plant invaders moving through heterogeneous landscapes with gaps in suitable habitat. We found that landscape patchiness and discrete invader population size interacted to generate a strong role for density dependence. Intraspecific competition greatly slowed the spread of invasions through patchy landscapes by regulating how rapidly a population could produce enough seeds to surpass habitat gaps. Populations with continuously varying density showed no such effect of density dependence. We adapted a stochastic dispersal model to approximate spread when gap sizes were small relative to the mean dispersal distance and a Markov chain approximation for landscapes with large gaps. Our work suggests that ecologists must consider reproduction at both low and high densities when predicting invader spread.

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