The genetic backburn: using rapid evolution to halt invasions

Ben L. Phillips*, Richard Shine, Reid Tingley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The impact of an invasive species depends upon the extent of area across which it ultimately spreads. A powerful strategy for limiting impact, then, is to limit spread, and this can most easily be achieved by managing or reinforcing natural barriers to spread. Using a simulation model, we show that rapid evolutionary increases in dispersal can render permeable an otherwise effective barrier. On the other hand, we also show that, once the barrier is reached, and if it holds, resultant evolutionary decreases in dispersal rapidly make the barrier more effective. Finally, we sketch a strategy—the genetic backburn—in which low-dispersal individuals from the range core are translocated to the nearside of the barrier ahead of the oncoming invasion. We find that the genetic backburn—by preventing invasion front genotypes reaching the barrier, and hastening the evolutionary decrease in dispersal—can make barriers substantially more effective. In our simulations, the genetic backburn never reduced barrier strength, however, the improvement to barrier strength was negligible when there was substantial long-distance dispersal, or when there was no genetic variation for dispersal distance. The improvement in barrier strength also depended on the trade-off between dispersal and competitive ability, with a stronger trade-off conferring greater power to the genetic backburn.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20153037
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1825
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • barrier
  • contemporary evolution
  • invasive species
  • spatial sorting
  • targeted gene flow


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