Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A third reason for the success of invasive species

A recent paper by Colautti et al. (2014) stated that the success of invasive species can be explained by two views.
  1. intrinsic factors make some species inherently good invaders
  2. species become invasive as a result of extrinsic ecological and genetic influences such as release from natural enemies, hybridization or other novel ecological and evolutionary interactions
This is not an unusual view of invasion biology, but one that is based on a static view of the world. This philosophy views habitats as fixed entities and the invaders being imposed upon them. There is a third reason for the success of invasive species, that new habitat has been create for them. Take for example the simple case of oak gall wasps Andricus aries, A. corruptrix, A. grossulariae, A. liginocolus, A. lucidus and A. quercuscalicis which have all invaded northern Europe in the past 60 years. They all have a complex alternating life cycle requiring two oak species Quercus cerris and Q. robur (Ozaki et al., 2006). However, only Q. robur is native to northern Europe. Q. cerris was introduced to northern Europe in the 18th century and was first found in the wild in the mid-19th century. It has, since then, continually been planted and has naturalised in many places. Thus, mankind created a habitat for these Andricus species where both oaks lived side-by-side and after a short lag the wasps came and occupied it. There is no reason to think these wasps are particularly good invaders, though some have spread quicker than others. Nor have they managed to escape their parasitoids (Ellis, 2005). It is not known if some evolutionary process aided their spread, but why invoke such a mechanism when a more parsimonious one exists?
Another, much less obscure, example is roadside halophytes. In recent years in the UK, roadside halophytes were amongst plants with the largest increase in range (Groom, 2013). Some plants such as Danish scurvy-grass (Cochlearia danica), reflexed saltmarsh grass (Puccinellia distans) and lesser sea-spurrey (Spergularia marina) have increased the quickest, but many different native saltmarsh plants can also be found by roadsides somewhere in Britain. There is no reason to think that halophytes are better invaders than other plants, nor is there any reason to believe that they have escaped natural enemies, as these are native plants. It is unlikely that all of them have undergone evolutionary changes or that there are “novel ecological and evolutionary interactions”. The main thing that has changed is the creation of large amounts of interconnected saline habitat at the side of roads.
Many other examples exist, C4 grasses are spreading in northern Europe due to changes in farming practises (Hoste & Verloove, 2001). Chasmophytes such as ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis), buddleia (Buddleja davidii) and wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria)  are increasing in cities because of the large number of walls on which they can grow. In numerous cases of invasion the creation of new habitat precedes the invasion. Climate change, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, pollution, forestry, agricultural and cultural changes all alter habitats, potentially priming these species for invasion. If a new habitat is being created one can be fairly sure that some organism will come along and occupy it. I do not discount the other two reasons for invasions, but if we ignore mankind's role in priming the environment for invasion we misunderstand the invasion process of many species.

Cited Literature

  1. Colautti, R.I., Parker, J.D., Cadotte, M.W., Pyšek, P., Brown, C.S., Sax, D.F. and Richardson, D.M. (2014) Quantifying the invasiveness of species. In: Capdevila-Argüelles L, Zilletti B (Eds) Proceedings of 7th NEOBIOTA conference, Pontevedra, Spain. NeoBiota 21: 7–27 doi:10.3897/neobiota.21.5310
  2. Ellis, H.A. (2005) Observations of the Agamic (Knopper Gall) of Andricus quercuscalicis and the associated inquilines and parasitoids in Northumberland. Cecidology 20: 12–27
  3. Groom Q.J. (2013) Some poleward movement of British native vascular plants is occurring, but the fingerprint of climate change is not evident. PeerJ 1:e77
  4. Hoste, I. & Verloove, F. (2001) De opgang van C4-grassen (Poaceae, Paniceae) in de snel evoluerende onkruidvegetaties in maïsakkers tussen Brugge en Gent (Vlaanderen, België). Dumortiera 78: 2–11
  5. Ozaki, K., Yukawa, J., Ohgushi, T. and Price, P.W. (2006) Galling Arthropods and Their Associates. Springer-Verlag, Tokyo
File:Knopper gall on oak (Quercus robur), induced by Andricus quercuscalicis (gall wasp), Arnhem, the Netherlands.jpg
Knopper gall on oak (Quercus robur) induced by Andricus quercuscalicis (gall wasp) by Bj.schoenmakers

This work by Quentin Groom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

A request for material of Oxalis corniculata

Oxalis corniculata has become an almost ubiquitous weed of plant pots and borders. Its explosive capsules and sticky seeds let it jump, like a vegetable flea, from pot to pot. This phenomena is not unique to Britain and Ireland. All across Europe O. corniculata can be found in similar situations.
Linnaeus first described the species from Europe, but it is not clear if it is native here. Close relatives exist in North America, Asia and Australasia. It has an extremely plastic phenotype depending on habitat. Characters such as hairiness, leaf size and habit all overlap between species in this group, even though these species do not hybridise readily. It is for this reason my colleagues and I at the Botanic Garden Meise (Belgium) are trying a molecular genetic approach to understanding the O. corniculata group. We are hoping to be able to unravel the phylogeny of these taxa and more precisely define the taxon boundaries. Perhaps we will even get indications of its geographic origins.
We are looking for specimens (fresh or rapidly dried) of plants in the O. corniculata group from as many places as possible. In addition to O. corniculata the corniculata group includes O. corniculata var. atropurpurea, O. dillenii, O. exilis and O. stricta. It doesn't matter if you can’t identify it with certainty, but it would help us match molecular and physical traits if you are able to provide a specimen with fruits and flowers. Nevertheless, even non-fruiting material will help.

Contact me at

This work by Quentin Groom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Bouchout Declaration for Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management

The Bouchout Declaration for Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management

On the 12th June 2014 the Bouchout Declaration was launched at Bouchout Castle in the grounds of the Botanical Garden Meise, Belgium. The declaration aims to promote openness of biodiversity data and encourage digital access to those data. The original signatories included more than 50 institutions from all over the world. Many were influential institutions such as Kew Gardens in the UK; Berlin Botanic Garden in Germany; Naturalis in the Netherlands and the Natural History Museum, Paris.

I encourage you to sign up to the declaration and support its values, either as an institution or an individual.

Below I've given five reasons why you should sign the declaration and five Dos and Don’ts of data openness… 

Five reasons to sign the The Bouchout Declaration

  1. Good scientists show the evidence for their assertions
  2. Modelling and protecting the biosphere is impossible without large amounts of high quality data
  3. We need evidence-based, not opinion-based, policies
  4. Small amounts of data have little value, but large amounts of pooled data are priceless
  5. These data should not be lost, they will have just as much value in the future

Five DOs of digital openness

  1. Publish your data, so that people can cite you
  2. Ensure your data is available in an agreed standard
  3. Make sure your data is well described so that it can be discovered and is useable
  4. Deposit your data in a long-term repository
  5. Promote the use of your data to others, who might not know how useful it is

Five DON'Ts of digital openness

  1. Don’t sit on your data for years because you think you might make use of it one day
  2. Don’t display your data, but make it difficult for people to download
  3. Don’t hold on to it because you think it has commercial value, unless you actually have a business plan for its exploitation
  4. Don’t restrict access of your data to the IT literate
  5. Don’t think your data is insignificant

Delegates of the pro-iBiosphere Final Event at Bouchout Castle

This work by Quentin Groom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.