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Recent human history governs global ant invasion dynamics


Human trade and travel are breaking down biogeographic barriers, resulting in shifts in the geographical distribution of organisms, yet it remains largely unknown whether different alien species generally follow similar spatiotemporal colonization patterns and how such patterns are driven by trends in global trade. Here, we analyse the global distribution of 241 alien ant species and show that these species comprise four distinct groups that inherently differ in their worldwide distribution from that of native species. The global spread of these four distinct species groups has been greatly, but differentially, influenced by major events in recent human history, in particular historical waves of globalization (approximately 1850–1914 and 1960 to present), world wars and global recessions. Species in these four groups also differ in six important morphological and life-history traits and their degree of invasiveness. Combining spatiotemporal distribution data with life-history trait information provides valuable insight into the processes driving biological invasions and facilitates identification of species most likely to become invasive in the future.

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Figure 1: Global spread of alien ants.
Figure 2: Temporal colonization dynamics.
Figure 3: Spatiotemporal trajectories.
Figure 4: Morphological and life-history traits.


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We thank M. Chapuisat, P. Christe, P. Lester, J. Pannell, J. Søe Pedersen, I. Sanders and C. Wedekind for their comments, and A. Suarez, E. Robinson and J. Longino for supplying data on morphological and life-history traits. This work was supported by several grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation and a European Research Council advanced grant. Data reported in the paper are presented in the Supplementary materials.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.B. and L.K. designed the study, C.B. and A.L. collected the data, C.B. and S.O. analysed the data and all authors discussed the analyses and wrote the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Cleo Bertelsmeier or Laurent Keller.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Four Supplementary Figures, two Supplementary Tables, and Supplementary Notes detailing the calculation of historical transition rates among dispersion stages (PDF 22540 kb)

Supplementary Dataset 1

An R object containing all data used in analyses. (ZIP 1808 kb)

Supplementary Dataset 2

An R script with code for all analyses and figures. (ZIP 9 kb)

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Bertelsmeier, C., Ollier, S., Liebhold, A. et al. Recent human history governs global ant invasion dynamics. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0184 (2017).

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