Rapid evolution of invasive species

Invasive species can undergo rapid evolutionary changes. This is not new, there are many empirical observations showing changes in life-history traits (growth rates, dispersal, phenology, mating-systems) in invasive species. The example of the cane toads in Australia is a very good one and well known (Phillips et al, 2006). The time frame where these changes occur is usually very short. More interestingly, invasive species can produce rapid evolutionary changes in native species (Phillips & Shine, 2006)!

It is a very interesting area of research, where ecological questions have been well studied, but many evolutionary questions remain unanswered. It is obvious that even for management purposes it is important to take into account evolutionary dynamics.

Interesting evolutionary questions are emerging trying to test different hypotheses, like the “evolution of increased competitive ability” (EICA), and the role of biotic interactions in local adaptation. But, important eco-evolutionary questions need answers, for example, does rapid evolution is mainly a result of selective pressure by species interactions of native communities? successful invaders are those filling ‘vacant niches’ in resident communities or rapid evolution facilitates their integration?

I would like to start answering some of these questions and the new directions in this area look very promising.


  • Phillips, BL & R. Shine (2006) “An invasive species induces rapid adaptive change in a native predator: cane toads and black snakes in Australia ” Proc R Soc B 273:1545-1550.
  • BL Phillips, GP Brown, JK Webb and  R Shine (2006) “Invasion and the evolution of speed in toads” Nature 439: 803



About franencinas

Evolutionary ecologist
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