Invasion by extremes: Population spread with variation in dispersal and reproduction

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  • For populations having dispersal described by fat‐tailed kernels (kernels with tails that are not exponentially bounded), asymptotic population spread rates cannot be estimated by traditional models because these models predict continually accelerating (asymptotically infinite) invasion. The impossible predictions come from the fact that the fat‐tailed kernels fitted to dispersal data have a quality (nondiscrete individuals and, thus, no moment‐generating function) that never applies to data. Real organisms produce finite (and random) numbers of offspring; thus, an empirical moment‐generating function can always be determined. Using an alternative method to estimate spread rates in terms of extreme dispersal events, we show that finite estimates can be derived for fat‐tailed kernels, and we demonstrate how variable reproduction modifies these rates. Whereas the traditional models define spread rate as the speed of an advancing front describing the expected density of individuals, our alternative definition for spread rate is the expected velocity for the location of the furthest‐forward individual in the population. The asymptotic wave speed for a constant net reproductive rate R0 is approximated as m yr−1, where T is generation time, and u is a distance parameter (m2) of Clark et al.’s 2Dt model having shape parameter . From fitted dispersal kernels with fat tails and infinite variance, we derive finite rates of spread and a simple method for numerical estimation. Fitted kernels, with infinite variance, yield distributions of rates of spread that are asymptotically normal and, thus, have finite moments. Variable reproduction can profoundly affect rates of spread. By incorporating the variance in reproduction that results from variable life span, we estimate much lower rates than predicted by the standard approach, which assumes a constant net reproductive rate. Using basic life‐history data for trees, we show these estimated rates to be lower than expected from previous analytical models and as interpreted from paleorecords of forest spread at the end of the Pleistocene. Our results suggest reexamination of past rates of spread and the potential for future response to climate change.

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    • Clark, James S., Lewis, Mark A., & Horvath, Lajos. (2001). Invasion by extremes: Population spread with variation in dispersal and reproduction. American Naturalist, 157(5), 537-554.
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