Density dependence in demography and dispersal generates fluctuating invasion speeds. Academic Article uri icon


  • Density dependence plays an important role in population regulation and is known to generate temporal fluctuations in population density. However, the ways in which density dependence affects spatial population processes, such as species invasions, are less understood. Although classical ecological theory suggests that invasions should advance at a constant speed, empirical work is illuminating the highly variable nature of biological invasions, which often exhibit nonconstant spreading speeds, even in simple, controlled settings. Here, we explore endogenous density dependence as a mechanism for inducing variability in biological invasions with a set of population models that incorporate density dependence in demographic and dispersal parameters. We show that density dependence in demography at low population densities-i.e., an Allee effect-combined with spatiotemporal variability in population density behind the invasion front can produce fluctuations in spreading speed. The density fluctuations behind the front can arise from either overcompensatory population growth or density-dependent dispersal, both of which are common in nature. Our results show that simple rules can generate complex spread dynamics and highlight a source of variability in biological invasions that may aid in ecological forecasting.

publication date

  • May 9, 2017