Population cycles produce periodic range boundary pulses

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Abstract

Classical theories of biological invasions predict constant rates of spread that can be estimated from measurable life history parameters, but such outcomes depend strongly on assumptions that are often unmet in nature. Subsequent advances have demonstrated how relaxing assumptions of these foundational models results in other spread patterns seen in nature, including invasions that accelerate through time, or that alternate among periods of expansion, retraction, and stasis of range boundaries. In this paper, we examine how periodic population fluctuations affect temporal patterns of range expansion by coupling empirical data on the gypsy moth invasion in North America with insights from a model incorporating population cycles, Allee effects, and stratified diffusion. In an analysis of field data, we found that gypsy moth spread exhibits pulses with a period of 6 yr, which field data and model simulations suggest is the result of a 6-yr population cycle in established populations near the invasion front. Model simulations show that the development of periodic behavior in range expansion depends primarily on the period length of population cycles. The period length of invasion pulses corresponded to the population cycle length, and the regularity of invasion pulses tended to decline with increases in population cycle length. A key insight of this research is that dynamics of established populations, behind the invasion front, can have strong effects on spread. Our findings suggest that coordination between separate management programs targeting low-density spreading and established outbreaking populations, respectively, could increase the efficacy of efforts to mitigate gypsy moth impacts. Given the variety of species experiencing population fluctuations, Allee effects, and stratified diffusion, insights from this study are potentially important to understanding how the range boundaries of many species change.

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