Skip to main content Accessibility help

A reappraisal of the role of humans in the biotic disturbance of islands



Traditionally, islands have been used as ecological and biogeographical models because of their assumed ecological simplicity, reduced ecosystem size and isolation. The vast number of Earth's oceanic islands play a key role in maintaining global biodiversity and serve as a rich source of evolutionary novelty. Research into the factors determining diversity patterns on islands must disentangle natural phenomena from anthropogenic causes of habitat transformation, interruption and enhancement of biological fluxes and species losses and gains in these geographically and ecologically limited environments. The anthropogenic ecological forcing of communication through global transport has profound implications regarding island–continent links. Anthropogenic disturbances along continental margins and insular coasts contribute to shaping island biotas in ecological time, but also have evolutionary consequences of global resonance. Patterns of human landscape and resource use (geographical space and ecological communities and species), as well as increasing ecological connectivity of oceanic islands and mainland, are chief driving forces in island biogeography that should be reappraised. Global indirect effects of human activities (i.e. climate change) may also affect islands and interact with these processes. We review the implications of direct and indirect anthropogenic disturbances on island biotic patterns, focusing on island size, isolation and introduced exotic species, as well as the unsettled issue of oceanic island ecological vulnerability.


Corresponding author

*Correspondence: Prof Juan D. Delgado e-mail:


Hide All

Supplementary material can be found online at



Hide All
Adsersen, H. (1995) Research on islands: classic, recent, and prospective approaches. In: Islands. Biological Diversity and Ecosystem Function, eds. Vitousek, P.M., Loope, L. & Adsersen, H., pp. 721. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag.
Anderson, A.J. (1995) Prehistoric Polynesian impact on the New Zealand environment: Te Whenua Hou. In: Historical Ecology in the Pacific Islands, eds. Kirch, P.V. & Hunt, T.L., pp. 271283. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Anderson, A.J. (2002) Faunal collapse, landscape change and settlement history in remote Oceania. World Archaeology 33: 375390.
Baine, M., Howard, M., Kerr, S., Edgar, G. & Toral, V. (2007) Coastal and marine resource management in the Galapagos Islands and the Archipelago of San Andres: issues, problems and opportunities. Ocean and Coastal Management 50: 148173.
Baldacchino, G. (2006) Islands, island studies. Island Studies Journal 1: 318.
Blondel, J. & Aronson, J. (1999) Biology and Wildlife of the Mediterranean Region. Oxford, UK/New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Borges, P.A.V. & Hortal, J. (2009) Time, area and isolation: factors driving the diversification of Azorean arthropods. Journal of Biogeography 36: 178191.
Brown, W.L. Jr. & Wilson, E.O. (1956) Character displacement. Systematic Zoology 5: 4964.
Bunce, M., Mee, M., Rodwell, L.D. & Gibb, R. (2009) Collapse and recovery in a remote small island – a tale of adaptive cycles or downward spirals? Global Environmental Change 19: 213226.
Burns, K.C., Berg, J., Bialynicka-Birula, A., Kratchmer, S. & Shortt, K. (2010) Tree diversity on islands: assembly rules, passive sampling and the theory of island biogeography. Journal of Biogeography 37: 18761883.
Carlquist, S. (1974) Island Biology. New York, NY/London, UK: Columbia University Press.
Caujapé-Castells, J., Tye, A., Crawford, D.J., Santos-Guerra, A., Sakai, A., Beaver, K., Lobin, W., Vincent-Florens, F.B., Moura, M., Jardim, R., Gómes, I. & Kueffer, C. (2010) Conservation of oceanic island floras: present and future global challenges. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 12: 107129.
Chown, S.L., Sinclair, B.J. & van Vuuren, D.J. (2008) DNA barcoding and the documentation of alien species establishment on sub-Antarctic Marion Island. Polar Biology 31: 651655.
Cincotta, R.P., Wisnewski, J. & Engelman, R. (2000) Human population in the biodiversity hotspots. Nature 404: 990992.
da Fonseca, G.A.B., Mittermerier, R.A. & Mittermeier, C.G. (2006) Conservation of Island Biodiversity: Importance, Challenges and Opportunities. Washington, DC: Centre for Applied Biodiversity Science.
Denslow, J.S. (2003) Weeds in paradise: thoughts on the invasibility of tropical islands. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 90: 119127.
Diamond, J. (1975a) Assembly of species communities. In: Ecology and Evolution of Communities, eds. Cody, M.L. & Diamond, J., pp. 342444. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.
Diamond, J.M. (1975b) The island dilemma: lessons of modern biogeographic studies for the design of natural reserves. Biological Conservation 7: 129146.
Enoch, M.P. & Warren, J.P. (2008). Automobile use within selected island states. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice 42: 12081219.
Fattorini, S. (2010) Influence of recent geography and paleogeography on the structure of reptile communities in a land-bridge archipelago. Journal of Herpetology 44: 242252.
Fernandes, R. & Pinho, P. (2017) The distinctive nature of spatial development on small islands. Progress in Planning 112: 118.
Ficetola, G.F. & Padoa-Schioppa, E. (2009) Human activities alter biogeographical patterns of reptiles on Mediterranean islands. Global Ecology and Biogeography 18: 214222.
Florencio, M., Cardoso, P., Lobo, J.M., Azevedo, E.B. & Borges, P.A.V. (2013) Arthropod assemblage homogenization in oceanic islands: the role of exotic and indigenous species under landscape disturbance. Diversity and Distributions 19: 14501460.
Florencio, M., Lobo, J.M., Cardoso, P., Almeida-Neto, M. & Borges, P.A.V. (2015) The colonisation of exotic species does not have to trigger faunal homogenisation: lessons from the assembly patterns of arthropods on oceanic islands. PLoS ONE 10 (5): e0128276.
Garden, D. (2005) Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific: An Environmental History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Gibbard, P.L. & Walker, M.J.C. (2014) The term ‘Anthropocene’ in the context of formal geological classification. Geological Society of London Special Publications 395: 2937.
Gillespie, R.G. & Clague, D.A. (eds.). (2009) Encyclopedia of Islands. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Gillespie, R.G. (2001) Oceanic islands: models of diversity. In: Encyclopedia of Biodiversity (Second Edition), ed. Levin, S.A., pp. 590599. Waltham, MA: Academic Press.
Gotelli, N.J. (2004) Assembly rules. In: Foundations of Biogeography: Classic Papers with Commentaries, eds. Lomolino, M.V., Sax, D.F., & Brown, J.H., pp. 10271035. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Grant, P.R. & Grant, B.R. (2006) Evolution of character displacement in Darwin's finches. Science 313: 224226.
Grant, P.R. (1994) Ecological character displacement. Science 266: 746747.
Helmus, M.R., Mahler, D.L. & Losos, J.B. (2014) Island biogeography of the Anthropocene. Nature 513: 543546.
Hickman, C.S. & Hickman, C.S. (2009). Lord Howe Island. In: Encyclopedia of Islands, eds. Gillespie, R.G. & Clague, D.A.. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
GESAMP (IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/WMO/WHOI/IAEA/UN/UNEP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution) (1998) Opportunistic Settlers and the Problem of the Ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi Invasion in the Black Sea. London, UK: International Maritime Organization.
Katovai, E., Sirikolo, M., Srinivasan, U., Edwards, W. & Laurance, W.F. (2016) Factors influencing tree diversity and compositional change across logged forests in the Solomon Islands. Forest Ecology and Management 372: 5363.
Keegan, W.F. & Diamond, J.M. (1987) Colonization of islands by humans: a biogeographical perspective. Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 10: 4992.
Kier, G., Kreft, H., Ming, T., Jetz, W., Ibisch, P.L., Nowicki, C., Mutke, J. & Barthlott, W. (2009) A global assessment of endemism and species richness across island and mainland regions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 23: 93229327.
Kueffer, C. & Fernández-Palacios, J.M. (2010) Comparative ecological research on oceanic islands. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 12: 8182.
Kueffer, C., Daehler, C.C., Torres-Santana, C.W., Lavergne, C., Meyer, J.Y., Otto, R. & Silva, L. (2010) A global comparison of plant invasions on oceanic islands. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 12: 145161.
Kueffer, C., Kronauer, L. & Edwards, P.J. (2009) Wider spectrum of fruit traits in invasive than native floras may increase the vulnerability of oceanic islands to plant invasions. Oikos 118: 13271334.
Lewis, S.L. & Maslin, M.A. (2015) Defining the Anthropocene. Nature 519: 171180.
Loire, E., Chiari, Y., Bernard, A., Cahais, V., Romiguier, J., Nabholz, B., Lourenço, J.M. & Galtier, N. (2013) Population genomics of the endangered giant Galápagos tortoise. Genome Biology 14: R136.
Lomolino, M.V. & Heaney, L.R. (2004) Frontiers of Biogeography: New Directions in the Geography of Nature. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.
Losos, J. (2000) Ecological character displacement and the study of adaptation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 97: 56935695.
Losos, J.B. & Ricklefs, R.E. (2009) Adaptation and diversification on islands. Nature 457: 830836.
MacArthur, R.H. & Wilson, E.O. (1967) The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Maul, G. (2005) Small Islands. In: Encyclopedia of Coastal Science, ed. Schwartz, M.L., pp. 883887. The Netherlands: Springer.
McGuinness, K.A. (1984) Equations and explanations in the study of species area curves. Biological Review 59: 423440.
Muchhala, N. & Potts, M.D. (2007) Character displacement among bat-pollinated flowers of the genus Burmeistera: analysis of mechanism, process and pattern. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 274: 27312737.
Nunn, P.D. (1994) Oceanic Islands. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Otto, R., Arteaga, M.A., Delgado, J.D., Arévalo, J.R., Blandino, C. & Fernández-Palacios, J.M. (2014) Road edge effect and elevation patterns of native and alien plants on an oceanic island (Tenerife, Canary Islands). Folia Geobotanica 49: 6582.
Otto, R. Barone, R., Delgado, J.D., Arévalo, J.R., Garzón-Machado, V., Cabrera-Rodríguez, F. & Fernández-Palacios, J.M. (2012) Diversity and distribution of the last remnants of endemic juniper woodlands on Tenerife, Canary Islands. Biodiversity and Conservation 21: 18111834.
Otto, R., Krüsi, B.O. & Kienast, F. (2007) Degradation of an arid coastal landscape in relation to land use changes in Southern Tenerife (Canary Islands). Journal of Arid Environments 70: 527539.
Patiño, J., Carine, M., Mardulyn, P., Devos, N., Mateo, R.G., González-Mancebo, J.M., Shaw, A.J. & Vanderpoorten, A. (2015) Approximate Bayesian computation reveals the crucial role of oceanic islands for the assembly of continental biodiversity. Systematics Biology 64: 579589.
Preston, FW. (1968) On modelling islands. Ecology 49: 592594.
Pretto, F., Celesti-Grapow, L., Carli, E. & Blasi, C. (2010) Influence of past land use and current human disturbance on non-native plant species on small Italian islands. Plant Ecology 210: 225239.
Richardson, D.M. & Whittaker, R.J. (2010) Conservation biogeography – foundations, concepts and challenges. Diversity and Distributions 16: 313320.
Ricklefs, R.E. & Bermingham, E. (2002) The concept of the taxon cycle in biogeography. Global Ecology and Biogeography 11: 353361.
Rigal, F., Whittaker, R.J., Triantis, K.A. & Borges, P.A.V. (2013) Integration of non-indigenous species within the interspecific abundance–occupancy relationship. Acta Oecologica – International Journal of Ecology 48: 6975.
Rodríguez, A. (2001) Erosión y desertificación. In: Naturaleza de las Islas Canarias. Ecología y Conservación, eds. Fernández-Palacios, J.M. & Martín Esquivel, J.L., pp. 317321. Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain: Turquesa.
Sax, D.F., Gaines, S.D. & Brown, J.H. (2002) Species invasions exceed extinctions on islands worldwide: a comparative study of plants and birds. The American Naturalist 160: 766783.
Sax, D.V. & Brown, J.H. (2000) The paradox of invasion. Global Ecology & Biogeography 9: 363371.
Schoener, T.W., Spiller, D.A. & Losos, J.B. (2001) Predators increase the risk of catastrophic extinction of prey populations. Nature 412: 183--186.
Shugart, H.H. (2004) How the Earthquake Bird Got Its Name and Other Tales of an Unbalanced Nature. New Haven, CT/London, UK: Yale University Press.
Simberloff, D. (1995) Why do introduced species appear to devastate islands more than mainland areas? Pacific Science 49: 8797.
Simberloff, D. & Levin, B. (1985) Predictable sequences of species loss with decreasing island area – land birds in two archipelagos. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 8: 1120.
Simberloff, D.S. & Wilson, E.O. (1969) Experimental zoogeography of islands: the colonisation of empty islands. Ecology 50: 278296.
Smith, C.M. & Davies, E.T. (2012) Emigration beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization. New York, NY: Springer Science + Business.
Smith, R.A. & Rausher, M.D. (2008) Experimental evidence that selection favors character displacement in the ivyleaf morning glory. The American Naturalist 171: 19.
Sol, D. (2000) Are islands more susceptible to be invaded than continents? Birds say no. Ecography 23: 687692.
Steinbauer, M. J, Otto, R., Naranjo-Cigala, A., Beierkuhnlein, C. & Fernádez-Palacios, J.M. (2012) Increase of island endemism with altitude – speciation processes on oceanic islands. Ecography 35: 2332.
Terzopoulou, S., Rigal, F., Whittaker, R.J., Borges, P.A.V. & Triantis, K.A. (2015) Drivers of extinction: the case of Azorean beetles. Biology Letters 11: 14.
Thomas, C.D. (2013) The Anthropocene could raise biological diversity. Nature 502: 7.
Valero, G.M.C. (1994) Spratly archipelago dispute: Is the question of sovereignty still relevant? Marine Policy 18: 314344.
Walter, H.S. (2004) The mismeasure of islands: implications for biogeographic theory and the conservation of nature. Journal of Biogeography 31: 177197.
Warren, B.H., Simberloff, D., Ricklefs, R.E., Aguilee, R., Condamine, F.L., Gravel, D., Morlon, H., Mouquet, N., Rosindell, J., Casquet, J., Conti, E., Cornuault, J., Fernández-Palacios, J.M., Hengl, T., Norder, S.J., Rijsdijk, K.F., Sanmartin, I., Strasberg, D., Triantis, K.A., Valente, L.M., Whittaker, R.J., Gillespie, R.G., Emerson, B.C. & Thebaud, C. (2015) Islands as model systems in ecology and evolution: prospects fifty years after MacArthur–Wilson. Ecology Letters 18: 200217.
Wetzel, F.T., Kissling, W.D., Beissmann, H. & Penn, D.J. (2012) Future climate change driven sea-level rise: secondary consequences from human displacement for island biodiversity. Global Change Biology 18: 27072719.
Whittaker, R.J. & Fernandez-Palacios, J.M. (2007) Island Biogeography: Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Whittaker, R.J. (1995) Disturbed island ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 10: 421425.
Whittaker, R.J., Ladle, R.J., Araújo, M.B., Fernandez-Palacios, J.M., Delgado, J.D. & Arévalo, J.R. (2007) The island immaturity – speciation pulse model of island evolution: an alternative to the ‘diversity begets diversity’ model. Ecography 30: 321327.
Whittaker, R.J., Triantis, K.A. & Ladle, R.J. (2008) A general dynamic theory of oceanic island biogeography. Journal of Biogeography 35: 977994.
Williamson, M. (1988) Relationship of species number to area, distance and other variables. In: Analytical Biogeography, eds. Myers, A.A. & Giller, P.S., pp. 91115. London, UK: Chapman & Hall.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Delgado supplementary material
Delgado supplementary material 1

 Word (28 KB)
28 KB

A reappraisal of the role of humans in the biotic disturbance of islands



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.