Niche shifts over spread of a biological invasion: Unveiling the role of changing habitat preference and density-dependence

Zulema Núñez-Tobajas, Juan Carlos Senar, Ruth Rodríguez-Pastor, José G. Carrillo-Ortiz, Laura Cardador

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Anticipating the ultimate fraction of a landscape that might be susceptible to invasion is challenging as several species are able to expand the range of environmental conditions used over invasion. Despite its relevance, the more proximate processes underlying observed shifts are not sufficiently understood. Habitat selection theory predicts that as population density increases, individuals start using sub-optimal resources to compensate for the limitation of the preferred ones. However, niche shifts might also occur as result of changes in habitat preferences over time. Here, we tested these alternative hypotheses by investigating nesting resource use and selection over a biological invasion and the relative effect of density-dependence on such patterns. Location: Barcelona, Spain. Methods: We take advantage of a large dataset recording the occurrence of the invasive monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus in Barcelona in the period 1975–2015. We apply generalized linear models to analyse changes in nesting habitat preferences and its interactive effect with conspecific presence. Results: Temporal changes in nesting habitat use occurred. Palm species were the most commonly used nesting substrate since the beginning of the invasion but the diversity and frequency of use of other nesting substrates increased over time. Changes in nesting substrate use were consistent with a change in habitat selection, when accounting for habitat availability. Although a general role of conspecific aggregation on occupation patterns was found, it was mostly additive. That is, shifts in nesting substrate did not structure in relation to conspecific distribution. Conclusions: Shifts in nesting resource selection can occur during the spread stage of biological invasions, probably related to innovation and learning, rather than to optimal habitat selection. These shifts present a significant challenge for forecasting efforts and management. However, changes do not happen rapidly over time, highlighting that there is a management opportunity window before significant shifts occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-12
Number of pages9
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • alien species
  • biological invasions
  • birds
  • density dependence
  • habitat selection
  • niche expansion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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