Out of the weeds? Reduced plant invasion risk with climate change in the continental United States

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Allen, Jenica M., and Bethany A. Bradley
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Identifying invasion risk is critical for regional prioritization of management and monitoring, however, we currently lack a comprehensive assessment of the invasion risk posed by plants for the United States. We aim to quantify geographic invasion risk for currently established terrestrial invasive plants in the continental U.S. under current and future climate. We assembled a comprehensive occurrence database for 896 terrestrial invasive plant species from 33 regional collections of field and museum data and projected species ranges using MaxEnt species distribution models based on current (1950–2000 average) and future (2040–2060 average) climate. We quantified geographic invasion risk as differences in species richness, invasion debt, range infilling, and identification of hotspots. Potential invasive plant richness was higher than observed richness, particularly in eastern temperate forests, where as many as 83% of species with suitable climate have not yet established. A small percentage (median = 0.22%) of species' potential ranges are currently occupied by them. With climate change, potential invasive plant richness declined by a median of 7.3% by 2050. About 80% of invasive plant hotspots were geographically stable with climate change, with the remaining 20% shifting northward. Invasion hotspots and current invasion debt reveal extensive, ongoing risk from existing invasive plants across the U.S., particularly in the Southeast. Climate change alters the spatial distributions of focal species for monitoring and is likely to reduce overall invasion risk in many areas. Early detection and rapid response programs could be most effective in stemming the spread of invasive plant species in areas with increased risk under climate change, while areas with persistent high risk are candidates for containment and control. The areas with reduced risk are prime locations for invasion of new imports from tropical and subtropical climates, highlighting the simultaneous need for prevention strategies.


Allen, Jenica M., and Bethany A. Bradley. 2016. “Out of the Weeds? Reduced Plant Invasion Risk with Climate Change in the Continental United States.” Biological Conservation 203 (November): 306–12. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2016.09.015.