Plant invasions and the niche

Andrew S. MacDougall, Benjamin Gilbert, Jonathan M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

353 Scopus citations


For plant invaders, being different is often equated with being successful, yet the mechanistic connection remains unclear. 2. Classic niche theory predicts that invaders with niches distinct from the native ?ora should coexist with little interaction with native species, yet such invaders often have substantial impacts. Meanwhile, invaders that overlap in niche space with native species should either be repelled or dominate, yet these invaders often naturalize with little effect. Such discrepancies between theory and observation raise questions about how species differences in?uence invader establishment and impact. 3. Here, we review these issues in light of recent work on coexistence theory, which shows how niche and ?tness differences between natives and invaders interact to determine invasion outcomes. We show how successful invader establishment depends on either a ?tness advantage or niche difference from resident species, but that only the former allows invaders to become dominant. 4. By identifying the role of niche and ?tness differences in leading invasion hypotheses, we unify their predictions for invasion success while highlighting new approaches for evaluating the importance of species differences for invasion. 5. Synthesis. Situating the invasion process within a recent coexistence framework broadens our understanding of invasion mechanisms and more tightly links problems in invasion ecology with our more general understanding of community dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-615
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


  • Coexistence
  • Diversity
  • Equalizing mechanisms
  • Exotic species
  • Invasive species
  • Niche theory
  • Stabilizing mechanisms


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