The roles of climate, phylogenetic relatedness, introduction effort, and reproductive traits in the establishment of non-native reptiles and amphibians

01 March 2013

We developed a method to predict the potential of non-native reptiles and amphibians (herpetofauna) to establish populations. This method may inform efforts to prevent the introduction of invasive non-native species. We used boosted regression trees to determine whether nine variables influence establishment success of introduced herpetofauna in California and Florida. We used an independent data set to assess model performance. Propagule pressure was the variable most strongly associated with establishment success. Species with short juvenile periods and species with phylogenetically more distant relatives in regional biotas were more likely to establish than species that start breeding later and those that have close relatives. Average climate match (the similarity of climate between native and non-native range) and life form were also important. Frogs and lizards were the taxonomic groups most likely to establish, whereas a much lower proportion of snakes and turtles established. We used results from our best model to compile a spreadsheet-based model for easy use and interpretation. Probability scores obtained from the spreadsheet model were strongly correlated with establishment success as were probabilities predicted for independent data by the boosted regression tree model. However, the error rate for predictions made with independent data was much higher than with cross validation using training data. This difference in predictive power does not preclude use of the model to assess the probability of establishment of herpetofauna because (1) the independent data had no information for two variables (meaning the full predictive capacity of the model could not be realized) and (2) the model structure is consistent with the recent literature on the primary determinants of establishment success for herpetofauna. It may still be difficult to predict the establishment probability of poorly studied taxa, but it is clear that non-native species (especially lizards and frogs) that mature early and come from environments similar to that of the introduction region have the highest probability of establishment.