Biodiversity in a globalized world: The journey of exotic species from origin to impact


Invasive alien species (IAS) are species that have been introduced to locations outside of their distributional range via human transport. In their novel exotic range, these species reach quickly reproduce and/or spread, hence the connotation “invasive”. Examples of well-known problematic IAS include tropical mosquitos bearing diseases such as Zika virus, predatory animals such as the lionfish or black rats, and plants blanketing anything they encounter. IAS are considered to be a major threat to biodiversity with extensive societal and economic consequences. However, invasive species do not become invasive overnight; invasion is the final and most detrimental stage of a much longer process. The aim of this thesis was to disentangle the natural and anthropogenic causes and consequences of species invasion by following exotic species from their origin to their impact. This thesis is structured along the different stages of species invasion and answers three overall research questions: Where do exotic species come from?; Where do exotic species end up?; What are the consequences of exotic species invasion?. The first question Where do exotic species come from? is answered in Chapter 2 that showed that exotic species and species endangered with extinction inhabit the same locations but contrast each other in terms of their traits. Both groups are overrepresented on human-impacted oceanic islands. The question: Where do exotic species end up? is answered by Chapters 3-5. In this section I conclude that within islands invaded by several exotic reptiles, these species are found almost exclusively in human-impacted environments with open or shrubby vegetation. Conversely, native species reach highest abundances in forest sites (Chapter 3). Hurricanes severely alter available habitats for reptiles (Chapter 4). Native species abundances of the lizard genus Anolis decreased with increasing levels of hurricane-induced habitat change, especially on St. Martin that was severely hit by the hurricanes Irma and Maria. Exotic species varied in their response, but we detected exotic species in previously uninvaded forests. That species from small, less populated islands also get introduced was demonstrated by the first published record of an exotic Saban anole (A. sabanus) found in the harbor of St. Eustatius (Chapter 5). This chapter serves as proof of concept that shipping is an important vector for exotic reptiles. The question What are the consequences of species invasion? is answered in Chapters 6-8, featuring the extensive invasion of the Coralita vine (A. leptopus) on St. Eustatius, impacting approximately one-third of this island. Coralita significantly alters the species composition of arthropod communities on St. Eustatius. After invasion the unique communities in urban and natural sites become homogenized to the point where they become undistinguishable (Chapter 6). The plant also has societal consequences through the reduced availability of ecosystem services (ES) (Chapter 7-8). Through a novel methodology we were able to provide estimates of ES value loss to the economy of St. Eustatius (Chapter 7-8), amounting to 42.000 dollar per year in case 3% of the island would be dominantly covered by the plant, rising to 640.000 dollar per year in case the entire range of Coralita would reach dominant coverage. We estimate that it requires a total investment of 12,7 million dollars (12% of GDP) to revert back from the worst case scenario to a Coralita-free situation. In general based on the work in this thesis I can conclude that the process of species invasion is 1) to some extent predictable at its various stages; 2) an important, independent driver of change augmented by several natural and anthropogenic factors; and 3) has major consequences for biological systems as well as human welfare and wellbeing through invasion-induced changes in ecosystem services.


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