Human land use promotes the abundance and diversity of exotic species on Caribbean islands

Wendy A.M. Jesse*, Jocelyn E. Behm, Matthew R. Helmus, Jacintha Ellers

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Human land use causes major changes in species abundance and composition, yet native and exotic species can exhibit different responses to land use change. Native populations generally decline in human-impacted habitats while exotic species often benefit. In this study, we assessed the effects of human land use on exotic and native reptile diversity, including functional diversity, which relates to the range of habitat use strategies in biotic communities. We surveyed 114 reptile communities from localities that varied in habitat structure and human impact level on two Caribbean islands, and calculated species richness, overall abundance, and evenness for every plot. Functional diversity indices were calculated using published trait data, which enabled us to detect signs of trait filtering associated with impacted habitats. Our results show that environmental variation among sampling plots was explained by two Principal Component Analysis (PCA) ordination axes related to habitat structure (i.e., forest or nonforest) and human impact level (i.e., addition of man-made constructions such as roads and buildings). Several diversity indices were significantly correlated with the two PCA axes, but exotic and native species showed opposing responses. Native species reached the highest abundance in forests, while exotic species were absent in this habitat. Human impact was associated with an increase in exotic abundance and species richness, while native species showed no significant associations. Functional diversity was highest in nonforested environments on both islands, and further increased on St. Martin with the establishment of functionally unique exotic species in nonforested habitat. Habitat structure, rather than human impact, proved to be an important agent for environmental filtering of traits, causing divergent functional trait values across forested and nonforested environments. Our results illustrate the importance of considering various elements of land use when studying its impact on species diversity and the establishment and spread of exotic species.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)4784-4796
    Number of pages13
    JournalGlobal Change Biology
    Issue number10
    Early online date31 May 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


    • environmental filtering
    • functional trait diversity
    • habitat structure
    • Lesser Antilles
    • native and exotic species
    • reptiles
    • squamates
    • tropics
    • urbanization


    Dive into the research topics of 'Human land use promotes the abundance and diversity of exotic species on Caribbean islands'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this