Non-Native Plants Widespread, Plenty of Space to Invade

January 23, 2015

Sorte.Cascade-155RThe first comprehensive study to assess native vs. non-native plant distribution in the continental United States finds non-native plant species are much more widespread than natives. The study includes Professor Cascade Sorte, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Exeter (UK).

Invasive species are one of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide, and recent research by Professor Sorte and colleagues indicates that their impacts are likely to increase under climate change. However, the scope of this threat is largely unknown.

Professor Sorte and her colleagues conducted the first broad-scale assessment of over 13,000 native and non-native plant distributions and used a modeling approach to identify the range of environments that these species currently inhabit and anticipate future spread.

“Our predictions suggested that the non-native plants are already more widespread – and will eventually inhabit larger ranges – than species native to the Unites States,” said Professor Sorte. “Furthermore, non-natives currently inhabit only about 50 percent of their expected range, indicating that they still have plenty of space to invade.”

This international collaboration developed during a working group led by Professor Sorte at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Their future work aims to determine how climate change could increase the impacts of invasive species, and Professor Sorte has recently received funding from the Albert and Elaine Borchard Foundation to hold an international colloquium on this topic during summer 2015. The group will include 12 participants, 6 from the USA and 6 from the European Union.

Their study was published in the January online issue of Global Ecology and Biogeography.


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