Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America ( IF 9.412 ) Pub Date : 2020-10-27 , DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2009701117 Geoffrey Legault, Matthew E. Bitters, Alan Hastings, Brett A. Melbourne
Species expanding into new habitats as a result of climate change or human introductions will frequently encounter resident competitors. Theoretical models suggest that such interspecific competition can alter the speed of expansion and the shape of expanding range boundaries. However, competitive interactions are rarely considered when forecasting the success or speed of expansion, in part because there has been no direct experimental evidence that competition affects either expansion speed or boundary shape. Here we demonstrate that interspecific competition alters both expansion speed and range boundary shape. Using a two-species experimental system of the flour beetles Tribolium castaneum and Tribolium confusum, we show that interspecific competition dramatically slows expansion across a landscape over multiple generations. Using a parameterized stochastic model of expansion, we find that this slowdown can persist over the long term. We also find that the shape of the moving range boundary changes continuously over many generations of expansion, first steepening and then becoming shallower, due to the competitive effect of the resident and density-dependent dispersal of the invader. This dynamic boundary shape suggests that current forecasting approaches assuming a constant shape could be misleading. More broadly, our results demonstrate that interactions between competing species can play a large role during range expansions and thus should be included in models and studies that monitor, forecast, or manage expansions in natural systems.