The colonization of novel Anthropocene habitats: Insects on introduced plants

Mr Roberto Padovani1, Dr Andrew Salisbury2, Ms Helen Bostock2, Dr David Roy3, Professor Chris  Thomas1

1The University of York, York, United Kingdom, 2The Royal Horticultural Society, Wisley, United Kingdom, 3The Center for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, United Kingdom

The number of species is increasing in many regions, despite overall declining global biodiversity. These increases are partly generated by the movement of species into new regions, where they may occupy novel habitats created by human activities. Currently, the rules governing species accumulation in anthropogenic novel habitats are poorly developed. We use non-native plants introduced to Great Britain as replicated exemplars of novel anthropogenic habitats for insects, analysing a combination of local-scale experimental plot data, and geographic-scale (national) data contained within the Database of Insects and their Food Plants (DBIF). We find that novel habitats accumulate the greatest diversity of associated taxa when they are widespread, and show some resemblance to habitats which have been present historically (based on native-introduced plant relatedness), with insect generalists colonising from a wider range of sources. Despite reduced per-plant diversity, exotic plants (novel anthropogenic habitats) may support distinctive insect communities, sometimes including insect taxa that are otherwise rare or absent, thus contributing to, and potentially increasing, broader-scale (assemblage) diversity in regions that contain mixtures of long-standing and novel habitats.


My research investigates changing diversity in the Anthropocene, using non-native plant – insect interactions as a model system. I am interested in how species accumulate in novel habitats, and in the impacts that these habitats have on the spread of non-native species into new regions. In addition to my doctoral research I am also very active in science communication/outreach work, and run an outreach group promoting the consumption of insects as a sustainable food source.

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