Climate change - a double-edged sword for invasive species?

Study shows that for invasive species in warming climates, some win while others lose

Data resources used via GBIF : 66,960 species occurrences
Berberis thunbergii
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) by Sara Rall via iNaturalist. Photo licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

The interaction between climate change and biological invasions is complex. Several studies have shown that climate change may lead to increased invasion, however, the opposite, in which invasions are mitigated by changing climates, is also plausible although harder to observe.

This study attacks the problem by a mechanistic case study of establishment risk for two invasive plants, Alliaria petiolata and Berberis thunbergii, in the northeastern United States compared with native ecological analog species.

By transplanting the invasive species into various locations across the region and thus environmental gradients, the authors created demographic models based on vitality in the given environment, and validated these by comparing the output with traditional ecological niche models based on GBIF-mediated occurrences.

For midcentury climate projections, the models predict increased suitability for B. thunbergii across the region. Surprisingly, however, future warming is likely to render the region unsuitable for A. petiolata. The study confirms how climate change may alter invasion patterns, but highlights that mechanistic studies are required to understand drivers and forecast potential invasions in novel environments.

Merow C, Bois ST, Allen JM, Xie Y and Silander JA (2017) Climate change both facilitates and inhibits invasive plant ranges in New England. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(16): E3276–E3284. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1609633114.