Brief Communication | Published:


Darwin's naturalization hypothesis challenged

Naturevolume 417pages608609 (2002) | Download Citation



Naturalized plants can have a significant ecological and economic impact1, yet they comprise only a fraction of the plant species introduced into new areas by humans2. Darwin proposed3 that introduced plant species will be less likely to establish a self-sustaining wild population in places with congeneric native species because the introduced plants have to compete with their close native relatives, or are more likely to be attacked by native herbivores or pathogens4,5, a theory known as Darwin's naturalization hypothesis6. Here we analyse a complete list of seed-plant species that have been introduced to New Zealand and find that those with congeneric relatives are significantly more, not less, likely to naturalize — perhaps because they share with their native relatives traits that pre-adapt them to their new environment.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Vitousek, P. M., D'Antonio, C. M., Loope, L. L., Rejmánek, M. & Westbrooks, R. NZ J. Ecol. 21, 1–16 (1997).

  2. 2

    Williamson, M. Biological Invasions (Chapman & Hall, London, 1996).

  3. 3

    Darwin, C. On the Origin of Species (Murray, London, 1859).

  4. 4

    Rejmánek, M. in Invasive Species and Biodiversity Management (eds Sandlund, O. T., Schei, P. J. & Viken, A.) 79–102 (Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, 1999).

  5. 5

    Mack, R. N. in Weeds in a Changing World (ed. Stirton, C. H.) 65–76 (British Crop Protection Council Symp. Proc. 64, Farnham, 7 1995).

  6. 6

    Daehler, C. C. Am. Nat. 158, 324–330 (2001).

  7. 7

    Jackson, B. D. et al. Index Kewensis Plantarum Phanerogamarum (Clarendon, Oxford, 1895).

  8. 8

    Mabberley, D. J. The Plant Book: A Portable Dictionary of the Higher Plants (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1987).

  9. 9

    Heenan, P. B., Breitwieser, I., Glenny, D. S., de Lange, P. J. & Brownsey, P. J. NZ J. Bot. 36, 155–162 (1998).

  10. 10

    SAS Institute. SAS/STAT Version 8 (SAS Institute, Cary, North Carolina, 1999).

  11. 11

    Webb, C. O. Am. Nat. 156, 145–155 (2000).

  12. 12

    Williams, C. B. J. Anim. Ecol. 16, 11–18 (1947).

Download references

Author information


  1. Plant and Ecological Sciences Division, Ecology and Entomology Group, Soil, PO Box 84

    • Richard P. Duncan
  2. Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand

    • Richard P. Duncan
  3. Landcare Research, Private Bag 6, Nelson, New Zealand

    • Peter A. Williams


  1. Search for Richard P. Duncan in:

  2. Search for Peter A. Williams in:

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard P. Duncan.

About this article

Publication history

Issue Date


Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.