Our ability to predict the outcome of invasion declines rapidly as non-native species progress through intertwined ecological barriers to establish and spread in recipient ecosystems. This is largely due to the lack of systemic knowledge on key processes at play as species establish self-sustaining populations within the invaded range. To address this knowledge gap, we present a mathematical model that captures the eco-evolutionary dynamics of native and non-native species interacting within an ecological network. The model is derived from continuous-trait evolutionary game theory (i.e., Adaptive Dynamics) and its associated concept of invasion fitness which depicts dynamic demographic performance that is both trait mediated and density dependent. Our approach allows us to explore how multiple resident and non-native species coevolve to reshape invasion performance, or more precisely invasiveness, over trait space. The model clarifies the role of specific traits in enabling non-native species to occupy realised opportunistic niches. It also elucidates the direction and speed of both ecological and evolutionary dynamics of residing species (natives or non-natives) in the recipient network under different levels of propagule pressure. The versatility of the model is demonstrated using four examples that correspond to the invasion of (i) a horizontal competitive community; (ii) a bipartite mutualistic network; (iii) a bipartite antagonistic network; and (iv) a multi-trophic food web. We identified a cohesive trait strategy that enables the success and establishment of non-native species to possess high invasiveness. Specifically, we find that a non-native species can achieve high levels of invasiveness by possessing traits that overlap with those of its facilitators (and mutualists), which enhances the benefits accrued from positive interactions, and by possessing traits outside the range of those of antagonists, which mitigates the costs accrued from negative interactions. This ‘central-to-reap, edge-to-elude’ trait strategy therefore describes the strategic trait positions of non-native species to invade an ecological network. This model provides a theoretical platform for exploring invasion strategies in complex adaptive ecological networks.
- ecological interaction network
- empty niches
- fitness landscape
- invasion science
- propagule pressure