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Biodiversity protects against invasions of non-native tree species

August 23, 2023
ETH Zurich
Researchers combined human and ecological factors to analyze the global scale of non-native tree species invasions. Human activity in hotspots of global trade, such as maritime ports, is linked to an increased likelihood of non-native tree species invasions. However, a high diversity of native tree species can help to curb the intensity of such invasions.

For centuries, human activity has intentionally or unintentionally driven the spread of plant species to areas far outside their native habitat. On average, about 10 percent of non-native species worldwide become invasive, often causing large ecological and economic consequences for affected regions.

For the first time, a global team of researchers, led by ETH Zurich, have explored which regions on Earth are most vulnerable to non-native tree invasions. The study, published in the journal Nature, combined human, and ecological factors to assess the drivers of tree invasion occurrence and severity across the globe.

Ecological factors determine severity

The study reveals that proximity to human activity -- especially maritime ports -- emerges as a dominant factor driving the likelihood of invasion. Ports handle tonnes of goods including plants or seeds from all corners of the globe. The colonization pressure exerted by plant material is, therefore, very high in these regions of high human activity. The closer a forest is to a port, the higher the risk of invasion.

However, ecological factors determine the severity of invasion. Most importantly, native biodiversity helps to buffer the intensity of these invasions. In diverse forests, when most of the available niches are filled by native species, it becomes harder for non-native tree species to spread and proliferate.

The ecological strategy of the invading species is also important in determining which types of trees can invade in different regions. In harsh regions with extreme cold or dry conditions, the researchers found that non-native tree species must be functionally similar to native species to survive in these harsh environments. However, in locations with moderate conditions, non-native trees must be functionally dissimilar to native species in order to survive by functionally differentiating themselves, the non-native species avoid intense competition with native trees for important resources such as space, light, nutrients, or water.

Native biodiversity is a strong defence

Overall, the study highlights the importance of native tree diversity in helping to limit the severity of these invasions. "We found that native biodiversity can limit the severity or intensity of non-native tree species invasions worldwide," says Camille Delavaux, lead author of the study. "This means that the extent of invasion can be mitigated by promoting greater native tree diversity."

The findings have direct relevance for efforts to manage ecosystems in the fight against biodiversity loss across the globe. "By identifying regions that are most vulnerable to invasion, this analysis is useful for designing effective strategies to protect global biodiversity," says ETH Zurich professor, Thomas Crowther. A large consortium of researchers took part in the study and collected valuable data. "Without the incredible cooperation of scientists around the world, this global perspective would not have been possible."

Invasive species in focus worldwide

Indeed, the findings are significant for biodiversity conservation efforts worldwide. One key goal of the global biodiversity framework adopted at COP 15 in Montreal in 2022 is to prevent the establishment and spread of potentially invasive species. This global analysis of non-native tree species aims to contribute to the findings of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which is expected to highlight the substantial impact of invasive species on biodiversity loss in their upcoming status report.

"This global understanding of non-native tree distributions can help countries to prioritise decision making in efforts to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity," Crowther emphasises.

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Materials provided by ETH Zurich. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Camille S. Delavaux, Thomas W. Crowther, Constantin M. Zohner, Niamh M. Robmann, Thomas Lauber, Johan van den Hoogen, Sara Kuebbing, Jingjing Liang, Sergio de-Miguel, Gert-Jan Nabuurs, Peter B. Reich, Meinrad Abegg, Yves C. Adou Yao, Giorgio Alberti, Angelica M. Almeyda Zambrano, Braulio Vilchez Alvarado, Esteban Alvarez-Dávila, Patricia Alvarez-Loayza, Luciana F. Alves, Christian Ammer, Clara Antón-Fernández, Alejandro Araujo-Murakami, Luzmila Arroyo, Valerio Avitabile, Gerardo A. Aymard, Timothy R. Baker, Radomir Bałazy, Olaf Banki, Jorcely G. Barroso, Meredith L. Bastian, Jean-Francois Bastin, Luca Birigazzi, Philippe Birnbaum, Robert Bitariho, Pascal Boeckx, Frans Bongers, Olivier Bouriaud, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, Susanne Brandl, Roel Brienen, Eben N. Broadbent, Helge Bruelheide, Filippo Bussotti, Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, Ricardo G. César, Goran Cesljar, Robin Chazdon, Han Y. H. Chen, Chelsea Chisholm, Hyunkook Cho, Emil Cienciala, Connie Clark, David Clark, Gabriel D. Colletta, David A. Coomes, Fernando Cornejo Valverde, José J. Corral-Rivas, Philip M. Crim, Jonathan R. Cumming, Selvadurai Dayanandan, André L. de Gasper, Mathieu Decuyper, Géraldine Derroire, Ben DeVries, Ilija Djordjevic, Jiri Dolezal, Aurélie Dourdain, Nestor Laurier Engone Obiang, Brian J. Enquist, Teresa J. Eyre, Adandé Belarmain Fandohan, Tom M. Fayle, Ted R. Feldpausch, Leandro V. Ferreira, Markus Fischer, Christine Fletcher, Lorenzo Frizzera, Javier G. P. Gamarra, Damiano Gianelle, Henry B. Glick, David J. Harris, Andrew Hector, Andreas Hemp, Geerten Hengeveld, Bruno Hérault, John L. Herbohn, Martin Herold, Annika Hillers, Eurídice N. Honorio Coronado, Cang Hui, Thomas T. Ibanez, Iêda Amaral, Nobuo Imai, Andrzej M. Jagodziński, Bogdan Jaroszewicz, Vivian Kvist Johannsen, Carlos A. Joly, Tommaso Jucker, Ilbin Jung, Viktor Karminov, Kuswata Kartawinata, Elizabeth Kearsley, David Kenfack, Deborah K. Kennard, Sebastian Kepfer-Rojas, Gunnar Keppel, Mohammed Latif Khan, Timothy J. Killeen, Hyun Seok Kim, Kanehiro Kitayama, Michael Köhl, Henn Korjus, Florian Kraxner, Diana Laarmann, Mait Lang, Simon L. Lewis, Huicui Lu, Natalia V. Lukina, Brian S. Maitner, Yadvinder Malhi, Eric Marcon, Beatriz Schwantes Marimon, Ben Hur Marimon-Junior, Andrew R. Marshall, Emanuel H. Martin, Olga Martynenko, Jorge A. Meave, Omar Melo-Cruz, Casimiro Mendoza, Cory Merow, Abel Monteagudo Mendoza, Vanessa S. Moreno, Sharif A. Mukul, Philip Mundhenk, María Guadalupe Nava-Miranda, David Neill, Victor J. Neldner, Radovan V. Nevenic, Michael R. Ngugi, Pascal A. Niklaus, Jacek Oleksyn, Petr Ontikov, Edgar Ortiz-Malavasi, Yude Pan, Alain Paquette, Alexander Parada-Gutierrez, Elena I. Parfenova, Minjee Park, Marc Parren, Narayanaswamy Parthasarathy, Pablo L. Peri, Sebastian Pfautsch, Oliver L. Phillips, Nicolas Picard, Maria Teresa T. F. Piedade, Daniel Piotto, Nigel C. A. Pitman, Irina Polo, Lourens Poorter, Axel D. Poulsen, Hans Pretzsch, Freddy Ramirez Arevalo, Zorayda Restrepo-Correa, Mirco Rodeghiero, Samir G. Rolim, Anand Roopsind, Francesco Rovero, Ervan Rutishauser, Purabi Saikia, Christian Salas-Eljatib, Philippe Saner, Peter Schall, Dmitry Schepaschenko, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, Bernhard Schmid, Jochen Schöngart, Eric B. Searle, Vladimír Seben, Josep M. Serra-Diaz, Douglas Sheil, Anatoly Z. Shvidenko, Javier E. Silva-Espejo, Marcos Silveira, James Singh, Plinio Sist, Ferry Slik, Bonaventure Sonké, Alexandre F. Souza, Miscicki Stanislaw, Krzysztof J. Stereńczak, Jens-Christian Svenning, Miroslav Svoboda, Ben Swanepoel, Natalia Targhetta, Nadja Tchebakova, Hans ter Steege, Raquel Thomas, Elena Tikhonova, Peter M. Umunay, Vladimir A. Usoltsev, Renato Valencia, Fernando Valladares, Fons van der Plas, Tran Van Do, Michael E. van Nuland, Rodolfo M. Vasquez, Hans Verbeeck, Helder Viana, Alexander C. Vibrans, Simone Vieira, Klaus von Gadow, Hua-Feng Wang, James V. Watson, Gijsbert D. A. Werner, Susan K. Wiser, Florian Wittmann, Hannsjoerg Woell, Verginia Wortel, Roderik Zagt, Tomasz Zawiła-Niedźwiecki, Chunyu Zhang, Xiuhai Zhao, Mo Zhou, Zhi-Xin Zhu, Irie C. Zo-Bi, Daniel S. Maynard. Native diversity buffers against severity of non-native tree invasions. Nature, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06440-7

Cite This Page:

ETH Zurich. "Biodiversity protects against invasions of non-native tree species." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 August 2023. <>.
ETH Zurich. (2023, August 23). Biodiversity protects against invasions of non-native tree species. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 2, 2023 from
ETH Zurich. "Biodiversity protects against invasions of non-native tree species." ScienceDaily. (accessed December 2, 2023).

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