Colonisation (biology)

Colonisation or colonization (λ) is the process in biology by which a species spreads to new areas. Colonisation often refers to successful immigration where a population becomes integrated into a community, having resisted initial local extinction.

Bacteria growing into a biofilm on a surface

One classic model in biogeography posits that species must continue to colonize new areas through its life cycle (called a taxon cycle) in order to achieve longevity.[1] Accordingly, colonisation and extinction are key components of island biogeography, a theory that has many applications in ecology, such as metapopulations.


Colonisation occurs on several scales:

  • biofilm scales: the formation of communities of microorganisms on surfaces.[2]
  • small scales: colonising new sites, perhaps as a result of environmental change.
  • large scales: where a species expands its range to encompass new areas. This can be via a series of small encroachments or by long-distance dispersal. The term range expansion is often used.[3]


The term is generally only used to refer to the spread into new areas by natural means, as opposed to introduction or translocation by humans, which are called introduced species and sometimes becoming invasive species.

Species colonisation events

Large-scale notable pre-historic colonisation events include:


  • the colonisation of areas outside of Africa by first peoples, eventually resulting in the extinction of most Pleistocene megafauna.

Some large-scale notable colonisation events in the 20th Century are:




See also


  1. Wilson, E.O. (1962) The nature of the Taxon Cycle in Melanesian ant fauna "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2010-09-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) The American Naturalist
  2. 1. O’Toole, G., Kaplan, H. B. & Kolter, R. Biofilm Formation as Microbial Development. Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 54, 49–79 (2000).
  3. Yackulic, Charles B.; Nichols, James D.; Reid, Janice; Der, Ricky. 2015. To predict the niche, model colonization and extinction. Ecology. 96(1): 16-23.
  4. Livezey KB. 2009a. Range expansion of Barred Owls, part I: chronology and distribution. American Midland Naturalist 161:49–56.
  5. Livezey KB. 2009b. Range expansion of Barred Owls, part 2: facilitating ecological changes. American Midland Naturalist 161:323–349.

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