Historical data reveal power-law dispersal patterns of invasive aquatic species

Ruth Kelly, Mathieu G. Lundy, Frederic Mineur, Chris Harrod, Christine A. Maggs, Nicolas E. Humphries, David W. Sims, Neil Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
273 Downloads (Pure)


Understanding how invasive species spread is of particular concern in the current era of globalisation and rapid environmental change. The occurrence of super-diffusive movements within the context of Lévy flights has been discussed with respect to particle physics, human movements, microzooplankton, disease spread in global epidemiology and animal foraging behaviour. Super-diffusive movements provide a theoretical explanation for the rapid spread of organisms and disease, but their applicability to empirical data on the historic spread of organisms has rarely been tested. This study focuses on the role of long-distance dispersal in the invasion dynamics of aquatic invasive species across three contrasting areas and spatial scales: open ocean (north-east Atlantic), enclosed sea (Mediterranean) and an island environment (Ireland). Study species included five freshwater plant species, Azolla filiculoides, Elodea canadensis, Lagarosiphon major, Elodea nuttallii and Lemna minuta; and ten species of marine algae, Asparagopsis armata, Antithamnionella elegans, Antithamnionella ternifolia, Codium fragile, Colpomenia peregrina, Caulerpa taxifolia, Dasysiphonia sp., Sargassum muticum, Undaria pinnatifida and Womersleyella setacea. A simulation model is constructed to show the validity of using historical data to reconstruct dispersal kernels. Lévy movement patterns similar to those previously observed in humans and wild animals are evident in the re-constructed dispersal pattern of invasive aquatic species. Such patterns may be widespread among invasive species and could be exacerbated by further development of trade networks, human travel and environmental change. These findings have implications for our ability to predict and manage future invasions, and improve our understanding of the potential for spread of organisms including infectious diseases, plant pests and genetically modified organisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)581-590
Number of pages10
Issue number6
Early online date18 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • macrophyte
  • invasion
  • levy flight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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