niche-based models of species diversity, such as Stochastic Niche Theory (SNT), where the total number of species in a place is determined by how finely resources can be partitioned among species (Tilman, 2004).
These alternative pathways for species saturation have very different implications for the impact of invading species on native plant extinctions. Extinction-based saturation (like IBT) explicitly predicts species turnover, i.e., change in species composition, with the addition of species to islands (MacArthur and Wilson, 1963, 1967). Therefore, once a saturation point has been reached, the continued addition of exotic species should result in the extinction of native species, and the rate of extinction increases as the rate of colonization increases. If this holds true for islands, then we may eventually have dramatic increases in the number of native plant extinctions—particularly if exotics continue to be added in large numbers. In contrast, colonization-based saturation (like SNT) explicitly predicts that the addition of exotic species will become progressively less likely to occur as species richness increases (Stachowicz and Tilman, 2005). Colonization-based saturation (like SNT) also predicts that existing species should benefit from a priority effect that makes them unlikely to be displaced by incoming species—as long as invading species are more or less equivalent to native species in their efficiency in using resources (Stachowicz and Tilman, 2005). If this holds true on islands, then we should expect the rate of naturalization of exotic species to diminish dramatically and few currently established species (both native and exotic) to be at risk of extinction in the future. These are two very distinct views of the future, and distinguishing among these and other alternatives is important. Doing so will help us to advance our basic understanding of ecological and evolutionary theory while simultaneously advancing our understanding of a pressing applied issue, namely the future of plant diversity on islands worldwide.
Here, we evaluate the role of species invasions on the extinction of native species. We begin by examining the International Union for Conservation of Nature database for patterns of extinction in plants and terrestrial vertebrates that have occurred worldwide over the past 500 years. We then focus on patterns of invasion and extinction on islands over the past few hundred years. Next, we consider, with a focus on plants, whether islands are saturated with respect to the total number of species they can support. We also consider what the implications of species saturation are for future plant extinctions. Finally, we explore several research gaps that currently limit our ability to forecast species extinctions.
Humans have caused or contributed to many plant and animal extinctions. Over the past 15,000 years, humans have contributed to extinctions