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Toolbox for Spatial Analysis of Invasive Species Spread
Toolbox for Spatial Analysis of Invasive Species Spread

Invasive species are causing significant economic and environmental damages worldwide. This project will develop a tool to calculate the rate of spatial spread of an invasive species though habitat, and to determine the factors that determine that rate.

The globe is becoming ever more connected by shipping traffic and travel. These connections lead to movement of many plants and animals to new habitats. They arrive in the ballast water in the bellies of transatlantic ships, on the soles of travellers’ shoes, they are brought as decoration plants, and escape from researchers’ labs. Many new arrivals do not survive, but those that do can cause severe economic problems and threaten local plants and animals. For example, the European zebra mussel introduced to Lake St. Clair (in the USA and Canada) in 1998 quickly spread throughout the Great lakes area, clogging intake pipes for power plants and other underwater structures. Zebra mussels have caused billions of dollars of damage and greatly reduced biodiversity of the invaded areas (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2000).

Increasing numbers of invasions have made invasion biology to be a high profile area in recent years. Considerable efforts are going into recording the invasion process and compiling the existing data into databases. The ultimate goal is to answer why do some species become so successful at invading new habitats. The current knowledge indicates that there is no general answer to this question, but it is system, species and environment dependent.

One important aspect of an invasion is how fast does a population of an invading species spread through a habitat. There is a growing and sophisticated body of mathematical, statistical and computational approaches that can help answer this question. This project will develop a tool that will make these techniques available for wide audience of ecologists and conservation scientists and will integrate them with the existing data. Doing this will aid in developing prediction and prevention strategies for managing invasive species.