Characteristics of Australia's alien flora vary with invasion stage

Angela C. Bartlett*, Tim M. Blackburn, Rod Randall, Jane A. Catford

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Directly or indirectly, humans select the plants that they transport and introduce outside of species native ranges. Plants that have become invasive may therefore reflect which species had the chance to invade, rather than which species would become invasive given the chance. We examine characteristics of failed introductions, along with invasion successes, by investigating (a) variation in plant characteristics across invasion stages, and (b) how observed characteristics predict the likelihood of species moving through invasion stages. Location: Australia. Time period: 1770s to present. Major taxa studied: 34,650 plant species, across 424 families. Methods: We used a comprehensive list of 34,650 plant species that are known to have been introduced to Australia, 4,081 of which are classified as naturalized and 428 as invasive. We represent plant characteristics with categorical growth forms, three functional traits (plant height, seed mass, and specific leaf area) and three factors related to species introduction histories (native regions, purpose, and minimum residence times). Results: (a) The types of species introduced determine the types of species that naturalize and become invasive; (b) species introduction histories predict the likelihood of species moving through invasion stages; and (c) the numbers of species naturalizing (~15%) and becoming invasive (~15%) slightly exceeds expectation from the “tens rule”, which expects that 10% of introduced species naturalize and 10% become invasive. Main conclusions: Our findings are significant for global biosecurity, indicating that functional traits alone cannot be used to predict a species' risk of becoming invasive. Rather, evidence suggests that characteristics of species introductions—specifically, a longer time-lag since first introduction and more pathways of introduction—define the relative risks of species moving through invasion stages. This is important for assessing future invasion risks, as future introductions may differ from those of the past. Our work highlights the need to reduce the number of species introduced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1163-1177
Number of pages15
Issue number7
Early online date10 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • alien plant characteristics
  • biological invasions
  • biosecurity
  • functional traits
  • introduction bias
  • invasion stage
  • invasive alien species
  • minimum residence time
  • non-native Australian flora
  • tens rule


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