Biological invasions are a complex problem, with broad socio-ecological impacts, representing one of the main challenges to biodiversity conservation. Efforts to study and understand the spatial patterns of invasive species spread date back to Skellam's seminal work, published in 1951. Many different spatial approaches have since been developed to advance the study of invasive species, for example the use of bioclimatic species distribution models such as MaxEnt. Yet many of these methods fail to incorporate invasive species’ life history traits, or emergent population dynamic across heterogeneous landscapes. In this study, we used the HexSim platform (a spatially-explicit individual-based life history simulator) to replicate and project the invasion of American mink (Neovison vison) across southern Chile, while accounting for both environmental heterogeneity and life history traits. The American mink is a top-predator that was introduced to Chile in late 60s. We used MaxEnt to generated habitat suitability data based on occurrences from the mink’s native (USA) and Chilean distributions. Vital rates, reproductive, and dispersal parameters were obtained from literature.
Our simulation model replicated observed patterns of the Chilean mink invasion, starting from an initial population of 300 individuals placed at historic release sites. Our results are consistent with available reports of mink spread across the Chilean mainland. We are now using our model to evaluate alternative management strategies designed to slow the spread of American mink in Chile at local and regional scales, and to protect critical biodiversity sites. Further, we highlight the need for additional interdisciplinary collaborations that could improve mink management in Chile, and the modeling of invasive alien species in general. Our modeling approach provides a novel integrative mechanistic framework for invasive species management that has clear applications in other systems and settings.