ScienceDaily (Mar. 16, 2012) — Most invasive plants colonize regions with climates similar to the one from their native areas. This is the main conclusion of a study carried out within the framework of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Plant Survival by a research group at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in collaboration with researchers at the ETH Zurich and the University of Hawaii (USA). This work has just been published in the journal Science. With the analysis of fifty invasive plant species introduced worldwide, this study confirms that it is possible, for the most part, to predict the regions of potential invasibility based on the principle of climatic niche conservation.

Centaurea stoebe. (Credit: © Melanie Glaettli, Bern)

With the rise of European explorers and their discoveries of new geographic territories, five centuries ago, plant and animal species were moved by humans, accidentally or voluntarily, to places where they never existed before. Some species proliferated at the expense of local ones, menacing not only the equilibrium of the invaded ecosystems, but also causing serious socio-economic problems such as loss of crop productivity or an increase in allergies among the human population. However, these species provide the unique opportunity to understand ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that enable them to develop efficiently and rapidly in new regions.

For several years, Antoine Guisan, a professor in the department of ecology and evolution at UNIL, and his group have been studying the link between climate and plants' invasive potential within the framework of a project supported by the NCCR Plant Survival, a Swiss research network based at the University of Neuchâtel. "This study offers the strongest empirical evidence to date that climate is a determining factor in the geographic distribution of invasive plants," states Antoine Guisan.

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