Alina Avanesyan
Among the redwoods -- Muir Woods

Invasion Ecology

Deliberate introduction of exotic species, as well as accidental invasions and indirect human-assisted climate change are altering ranges and introducing new overlaps of species. This has resulted in novel species associations that not only affect trophic interactions locally in natural and managed communities, but also may often cause widespread economic and environmental problems..

Learning objectives

LO#1: Become familiar with the diversity of invasive species, their ecological adaptations in the introduced range, novel associations with native species, and impact on native communities. (Bloom’s taxonomy levels: “remember”, “understand”)

LO#2: Develop an understanding of the theoretical framework of invasion ecology with a focus on invasion hypotheses, predictive models, and management of invasive species. (Bloom’s taxonomy levels: “understand”, “apply”)

LO#3: Closely examine ecology of native-invasive species interactions using case studies and recognize the complexity of ecological mechanisms underlying novel species interactions. (Bloom’s taxonomy levels: “analyze”, “evaluate”, “create”)

Learning outcomes

  1. After completion of the course students need to know:
    • The main ecological characteristics of the invasive species (LO#1)
    • Commonly used invasion ecology hypotheses, and how species invasions can be predicted and managed (LO#2)
    • The main ecological mechanisms underlying interactions between native and invasive species (LO#3)
  2. After completion of the course the students will be able to:
    • Differentiate between native, non-native, and invasive species, identify novel species interactions, and name representative invasive plant and animal species (LO#1)
    • Describe response of native communities to invaders and identify effective management strategies (LO#2)
    • Evaluate consequences of species introductions and develop informative suggestions for mitigating their impact on native communities (LO#3)

Learning outcome assessment

  • Pre-class assignments: reading assignments, online quizzes, article critiques
  • In-class worksheets
  • In-class short ungraded quizzes
  • Small-group discussions
  • All-class discussions
  • Individual and group presentations

The course includes weekly lectures and laboratories, weekly homework, 6 online quizzes, as well as a mid-term and cumulative final exam. During both lectures and laboratories students will design and conduct experiments, develop and present group projects, participate in short local field trips, write article critiques, analyze case studies, and develop risk assessment protocols.

In-class activities

  • Interactive lectures: ‘yes/no’-cards, in-class worksheet, short all-class discussions
  • Guided work in pairs and groups
  • Group presentations
  • Individual short presentations
  • Two local field trips
  • Laboratory experiment with plants
  • Two article critiques
  • Lockwood, J. L., Hoopes, M. F., & Marchetti, M. P. (2013). Invasion ecology. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Simberloff, D. (2013). Invasive species: what everyone needs to know. Oxford University Press.


  1. Invasive species: what are they?
  2. General hypotheses in invasion ecology
    • Enemy Release Hypothesis, Darwin Naturalization’s hypothesis and others: invasive species perspective
    • Biotic Resistance Hypothesis, Novel Weapon Hypothesis, and others: native species perspective
    • Group presentations: ‘my invasion hypothesis’
  3. Invasive species in terrestrial ecosystems
    • Plants, vertebrates, invertebrates, others?
    • Introduction pathways, examples
    • Impact on terrestrial ecosystems
  4. Invasive species in aquatic ecosystems
  5. Hands-on experience: ‘special’ invasive species
    • Group project: invasive species portrait
    • Guided discussion in class
    • Group presentations: “My special invasive species”
  6. Invasive species in the introduced range: how do they survive?
    • Novel interactions with native species
    • Novel adaptations to the environment
    • Using novel resources
  7. Evolution of invaders
    • Founding process, local adaptation, genetics of invasive species
    • Evolutionary impact of invasive species: case studies
    • Future invaders: predicting invasions and modelling of invasive species distribution
  8. Mid-term review and exam
    • Special topic: TBD (students’ choice)
    • What we have learned so far: Invasive species: definition, diversity, interactions with other species and environment
    • Mid-term exam
  9. Narrowing down the focus: novel plant-insect interactions
    • Diversity of non-native insect and plant species: forest and crop pests
    • Interactions between native and invasive species and their ecological impact: a case study
    • Novel plant-associations: implications for co-evolution, biotic resistance, and biological control
    • file_downloadworksheet file_downloadhomework
  10. Narrowing down the focus: novel host-parasite interactions
    • Introduced parasites and their mode of action; host responses
    • Biological control: definition, types, focus on classical biocontrol and augmentation
    • Invasion ecology meets parasitology: examples and discussion
  11. Narrowing down the focus: novel predator-prey interactions
    • Invasive vs. native predator and prey species: case studies
    • Predator-prey coadaptations and impact on ecosystems
    • Novel predator-prey interactions: implications for conservation and co-evolution
  12. Hands-on experience: ‘special’ novel interaction
    • Group project: ‘my special novel species interaction’
    • Guided discussion in class
    • Group presentations: “My special novel species interaction”
  13. Impact of Invasive Species and management strategies
    • Ecological and economic impacts; risk accessment protocols; eradication, conservation issues
    • Biocontrol, monitoring, scouting, trap species; what you can do..
    • Group presentations: ‘my risk assesment protocol’
  14. Sometimes it is good to be introduced..
    • Can invasive species be beneficial for the environment? Facts and ideas
    • Group project: creating an ‘ideal’ introduced species
    • Group presentations: “My ideal introduced species would ..”
  15. Invasion ecology resources: where should I look to learn more?
    • Invasive species databases and state lists
    • Invasion ecology research: current state of invasion ecology, professional societies, communication
    • Short individual presentations: “If I were an invasion ecologist..”
  16. Wrap-up
    • Special topic: TBD (students’ choice)
    • Final exam


Week 1. Short presentations: “Invasion ecology: what I want to know”. Setting-up experiment with native/invasive grasses (seedlings planted in the greenhouse before the class starts)

Week 2. Taking ‘pre-competition’ measurements. In-class group project: ‘my invasion hypothesis’

Week 3. Field trip: collection of plants

Week 4. Determining plant species using mobile app; exploring plant origin

Week 5. Stream/ditch collection trip

Week 6. Determining species diversity; exploring species origin and mode of introduction

Week 7. Taking ‘post-competition’ measurements

Week 8. Analysis of experimental data; preparing presentations

Week 9. Presenting experimental results; in-class discussion

Week 10. Designing experiment: “Novel plant-insect interactions”; predicting outcomes based on invasion hypotheses

Week 11. Literature review; guided group discussion

Week 12. Presenting ‘virtual’ experimental results; in-class discussion

Week 13. Group project: ‘my risk assessment protocol’; group discussion

Week 14. Preparing presentations: ‘my risk assessment protocol’

Week 15. Preparing presentations: “If I were an invasion ecologist..”

Week 16. Final review

Online alternatives for experimental laboratories and field trips: to be added