Is phylogenetic relatedness to native species important for the establishment of reptiles introduced to California and Florida?
Aim Charles Darwin posited that introduced species with close relatives were less likely to succeed because of fiercer competition resulting from their similarity to residents. There is much debate about the generality of this rule, and recent studies on plant and fish introductions have been inconclusive. Information on phylogenetic relatedness is potentially valuable for explaining invasion outcomes and could form part of screening protocols for minimizing future invasions. We provide the first test of this hypothesis for terrestrial vertebrates using two new molecular phylogenies for native and introduced reptiles for two regions with the best data on introduction histories.Location California and Florida, USA.Methods We performed an ordination of ecological traits to confirm that ecologically similar species are indeed closely related phylogenetically. We then inferred molecular phylogenies for introduced and native reptiles using sequence data for two nuclear and three mitochondrial genes. Using these phylogenies, we computed two distance metrics: the mean phylogenetic distance (MPD) between each introduced species and all native species in each region (which indicates the potential interactions between introduced species and all native species in the community) and the distance of each introduced species to its nearest native relative - NN (indicating the degree of similarity and associated likelihood of competition between each introduced species and its closest evolutionary analogue). These metrics were compared for introduced species that established and those that failed.Results We demonstrate that phylogenetically related species do share similar ecological functions. Furthermore, successfully introduced species are more distantly related to natives (for NN and MPD) than failed species, although variation is high.Main conclusions The evolutionary history of a region has value for explaining and predicting the outcome of human-driven introductions of reptiles. Phylogenetic metrics are thus useful inputs to multi-factor risk assessments, which are increasingly required for screening introduced species. © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.