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Evolutionary imbalance, climate and human history jointly shape the global biogeography of alien plants


Human activities are causing global biotic redistribution, translocating species and providing them with opportunities to establish populations beyond their native ranges. Species originating from certain global regions, however, are disproportionately represented among naturalized aliens. The evolutionary imbalance hypothesis posits that differences in absolute fitness among biogeographic divisions determine outcomes when biotas mix. Here, we compile data from native and alien distributions for nearly the entire global seed plant flora and find that biogeographic conditions predicted to drive evolutionary imbalance act alongside climate and anthropogenic factors to shape flows of successful aliens among regional biotas. Successful aliens tend to originate from large, biodiverse regions that support abundant populations and where species evolve against a diverse backdrop of competitors and enemies. We also reveal that these same native distribution characteristics are shared among the plants that humans select for cultivation and economic use. In addition to influencing species’ innate potentials as invaders, we therefore suggest that evolutionary imbalance shapes plants’ relationships with humans, impacting which species are translocated beyond their native distributions.

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Fig. 1: Variation and drivers of global naturalization success among plant origins.
Fig. 2: Geographic variation in naturalization success for species originating from each biogeographic syndrome.
Fig. 3: Drivers of economic use and naturalization across the global seed plant flora (n = 334,667).
Fig. 4: Drivers of naturalization extent among the naturalized alien seed plant flora (n = 13,280).

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Data availability

All results are based on publicly available data as described in Methods. Data used in analyses can be downloaded in Supplementary Data 15 and 7 through (ref. 74).

Code availability

R code used to perform analyses can be found in Supplementary Code 1, available through (ref. 74).


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M.v.K. and N.L.K. thank the German Research Foundation DFG for funding (grants 264740629 and 432253815 to M.v.K.). F.E. appreciates funding by the Austrian Science Foundation FWF (grant no. I 5825-B). P.P. and J.P. were supported by EXPRO grant no. 19-28807X (Czech Science Foundation) and long-term research development project RVO 67985939 (Czech Academy of Sciences). J.-M.D.-D. is an independent ecologist.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



T.S.F. and J.B. conceived and designed the study with input from N.L.K., Q.Y., Z.Z. and M.v.K. T.S.F. and J.B. analysed the data. T.S.F. and J.B. wrote the initial draft with input from M.v.K. T.S.F., J.B., N.L.K., Q.Y., Z.Z., W.D., F.E., H.K., J.P., P.P., P. Weigelt, J.-M.D.-D., A.N.S., P. Wasowicz, K.B.W. and M.v.K. contributed data and to subsequent manuscript revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Trevor S. Fristoe.

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Nature Ecology & Evolution thanks Jason Fridley and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Extended data

Extended Data Table 1 Loadings for varimax rotated principal components of predictors of global naturalization success measured for biogeographic syndromes (‘BG’)
Extended Data Table 2 Coefficients from linear regression predicting global naturalization success across biogeographic syndromes (n = 19)
Extended Data Table 3 Loadings for rotated principal components of predictors of regional naturalization success measured for biogeographic syndromes (‘BGReg’ for biogeographic syndrome by region analysis)
Extended Data Table 4 Coefficients from linear mixed model predicting regional naturalization success across biogeographic syndromes (n = 6061 biogeographic syndrome x recipient region comparisons)
Extended Data Table 5 Loadings for varimax rotated principal components of predictors of probability of economic use and probability of naturalization among species (‘Spp’)
Extended Data Table 6 Coefficients from phylogenetic binomial regression predicting probability of economic use among species (n = 334,667)
Extended Data Table 7 Coefficients from phylogenetic binomial regression predicting probability of naturalization among species (n = 334,667)
Extended Data Table 8 Loadings for rotated principal components of predictors of number of naturalized regions among species that have naturalized beyond their native distributions (‘Nat’)
Extended Data Table 9 Coefficients from phylogenetic linear regression predicting number naturalized regions among species that have naturalized beyond their native distributions (n = 13,280)

Extended Data Fig. 1 Drivers of regional naturalization success among biogeographic syndromes (n = 6061 biogeographic syndrome x recipient region comparisons).

Partial residual plots from linear mixed model predicting regional naturalization success among biogeographic syndromes (full results Extended Data Table 4). In the bottom panels, main contributors to a given principal component (loading > 0.50) are listed along the x-axes with the length and direction of arrows indicating the value and sign of the variable loading (see Extended Data Table 3; ‘BGReg’ indicates that PCs for the regional analysis were derived using data for biogeographic syndromes, but not including climate suitability or territorial links). Variables associated with the evolutionary imbalance hypothesis are colored green (Precip. Var. = precipitation variability), anthropogenic variables purple, and climatic suitability in pink. Shaded bands indicate 95% confidence bands.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–4, and descriptions for Supplementary Data 1–7 and Supplementary Code 1.

Reporting Summary

Peer Review File

Supplementary Data 1

Table describing matching between GloNAF and TDWG3 regions in .csv format.

Supplementary Data 2

Data for TDWG3 regions, including information for matching to country level data (columns ‘Country1’ to ‘Country6’) in .csv format.

Supplementary Data 3

Data for biogeographic syndromes in .csv format.

Supplementary Data 4

Data for analysis of regional naturalization success in .csv format.

Supplementary Data 5

Species-level data in .csv format.

Supplementary Data 6

Results from single predictor models in .xlsx format.

Supplementary Data 7

Phylogeny used for phylogenetic analyses in Newick (.txt) format.

Supplementary Code 1

R code for reproducing analyses.

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Fristoe, T.S., Bleilevens, J., Kinlock, N.L. et al. Evolutionary imbalance, climate and human history jointly shape the global biogeography of alien plants. Nat Ecol Evol 7, 1633–1644 (2023).

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