Mechanistic reconciliation of community and invasion ecology

Guillaume Latombe*, David M. Richardson, Melodie A. McGeoch, Res Altwegg, Jane A. Catford, Jonathan M. Chase, Franck Courchamp, Karen J. Esler, Jonathan M. Jeschke, Pietro Landi, John Measey, Guy F. Midgley, Henintsoa O. Minoarivelo, James G. Rodger, Cang Hui

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Community and invasion ecology have mostly grown independently. There is substantial overlap in the processes captured by different models in the two fields, and various frameworks have been developed to reduce this redundancy and synthesize information content. Despite broad recognition that community and invasion ecology are interconnected, a process-based framework synthesizing models across these two fields is lacking. Here we review 65 representative community and invasion models and propose a common framework articulated around six processes (dispersal, drift, abiotic interactions, within-guild interactions, cross-guild interactions, and genetic changes). The framework is designed to synthesize the content of the two fields, provide a general perspective on their development, and enable their comparison. The application of this framework and of a novel method based on network theory reveals some lack of coherence between the two fields, despite some historical similarities. Community ecology models are characterized by combinations of multiple processes, likely reflecting the search for an overarching theory to explain community assembly and structure, drawing predominantly on interaction processes, but also accounting largely for the other processes. In contrast, most models in invasion ecology invoke fewer processes and focus more on interactions between introduced species and their novel biotic and abiotic environment. The historical dominance of interaction processes and their independent developments in the two fields is also reflected in the lower level of coherence for models involving interactions, compared to models involving dispersal, drift, and genetic changes. It appears that community ecology, with a longer history than invasion ecology, has transitioned from the search for single explanations for patterns observed in nature to investigate how processes may interact mechanistically, thereby generating and testing hypotheses. Our framework paves the way for a similar transition in invasion ecology, to better capture the dynamics of multiple alien species introduced in complex communities. Reciprocally, applying insights from invasion to community ecology will help us understand and predict the future of ecological communities in the Anthropocene, in which human activities are weakening species’ natural boundaries. Ultimately, the successful integration of the two fields could advance a predictive ecology that is urgently required in a rapidly changing world.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03359
Issue number2
Early online date10 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Feb 2021


  • community ecology
  • hypothesis
  • invasion ecology
  • model
  • process
  • theory


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