Commonly Rare and Rarely Common: Comparing Population Abundance of Invasive and Native Aquatic Species

Gretchen J.A. Hansen, M. Jake Vander Zanden, Michael J. Blum, Murray K. Clayton, Ernie F. Hain, Jennifer Hauxwell, Marit Izzo, Matthew S. Kornis, Peter B. McIntyre, Alison Mikulyuk, Erika Nilsson, Julian D. Olden, Monica Papeş, Sapna Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Invasive species are leading drivers of environmental change. Their impacts are often linked to their population size, but surprisingly little is known about how frequently they achieve high abundances. A nearly universal pattern in ecology is that species are rare in most locations and abundant in a few, generating right-skewed abundance distributions. Here, we use abundance data from over 24,000 populations of 17 invasive and 104 native aquatic species to test whether invasive species differ from native counterparts in statistical patterns of abundance across multiple sites. Invasive species on average reached significantly higher densities than native species and exhibited significantly higher variance. However, invasive and native species did not differ in terms of coefficient of variation, skewness, or kurtosis. Abundance distributions of all species were highly right skewed (skewness>0), meaning both invasive and native species occurred at low densities in most locations where they were present. The average abundance of invasive and native species was 6% and 2%, respectively, of the maximum abundance observed within a taxonomic group. The biological significance of the differences between invasive and native species depends on species-specific relationships between abundance and impact. Recognition of cross-site heterogeneity in population densities brings a new dimension to invasive species management, and may help to refine optimal prevention, containment, control, and eradication strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere77415
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 23 2013


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