Darwin's naturalization conundrum can be explained by spatial scale

Daniel S. Park, Xiao Feng, Brian S. Maitner, Kacey C. Ernst, Brian J. Enquist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Darwin proposed two seemingly contradictory hypotheses regarding factors influencing the outcome of biological invasions. He initially posited that nonnative species closely related to native species would be more likely to successfully establish, because they might share adaptations to the local environment (preadaptation hypothesis). However, based on observations that the majority of naturalized plant species in the United States belonged to nonnative genera, he concluded that the lack of competitive exclusion would facilitate the establishment of alien invaders phylogenetically distinct from the native flora (competition-relatedness hypothesis). To date, no consensus has been reached regarding these opposing hypotheses. Here, following Darwin, we use the flora of the United States to examine patterns of taxonomic and phylogenetic relatedness between native and nonnative taxa across thousands of nested locations ranging in size and extent, from local to regional scales. We find that the probability of observing the signature of environmental filtering over that of competition increases with spatial scale. Further, native and nonnative species tended to be less related in warm, humid environments. Our work provides an empirical assessment of the role of observation scale and climate in biological invasions and demonstrates that Darwin's two opposing hypotheses need not be mutually exclusive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10904-10910
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 19 2020


  • Biological invasions
  • Competition
  • Darwin's naturalization hypothesis
  • Environmental filtering
  • Spatial resolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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