Research Features

Biological invasions are significant drivers of global environmental change, with far reaching ecological and socio-economic impacts. Central to the field of invasion science is the development and testing of frameworks. This is driven by the need to understand and manage biological invasions, however, many of these frameworks have not been critically evaluated, and their general applicability is unknown.

In November 2019, the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology hosted a workshop on “Frameworks used in Invasion Science”. The workshop gave rise to a NeoBiota special issue on this theme. Dr Trudy Paap, research Fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI), led a review exploring frameworks in the context of forest pathology.

The authors found that while there are substantial negative impacts associated with the establishment of invasive forest pathogens (IFPs), they are largely underrepresented in the invasion science literature. In addition, most studies of forest pathogens have been undertaken without any connection with, or consideration of, the frameworks of invasion science.

They suggest that this is in part a consequence of the mechanistic approach inherited from plant pathology. However, they also argue that existing frameworks have frequently been developed from zoological or botanical perspectives. This has resulted in practical issues when applying these frameworks to microorganisms, including IFPs. The problem is confounded by a lack of knowledge of microbial biodiversity and ecology, speciation and geographic origin, which presents challenges with regards to understanding IFPs under existing frameworks.

Advances in molecular technologies such as gene and genome sequencing and metagenomic studies, have increased the "visibility" of microorganisms. With this, IFPs can be more easily and accurately identified, and knowledge of these organisms and their biogeography and ecology is enhanced. The continued promotion and application of multi-disciplinary approaches to forest pathology and invasion science research is critical, to adequately understand and address the complex challenges of identifying and managing forest pathogen invasions.

You can listen to a presentation on the topic “Harmonising the fields of invasion science and forest pathology” here.