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An Evolutionary Approach to Understanding the Biology of Invasions: Local Adaptation and General-Purpose Genotypes in the Weed Verbascum thapsus

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Abstract:

The role of evolution in the invasion of non-native species has important implications for conservation, weed science, risk assessment, and policy. In this paper we first discuss why an evolutionary perspective can be helpful and outline a range of potentially useful approaches from population biology and ecological genetics. As a case study, we then ask how adaptation and genetic structure may promote or constrain the expansion of an invasive weed, Verbascum thapsus, into high elevations in the Sierra Nevada of California. We used growth-chamber and common-garden experiments to assay a range of morphological and physiological traits that could influence plant fitness at high elevation. There was a significant relationship between elevation and leaf size and reflectance above 800 m, although we found no relationship between elevation and most other traits (  growth rate in warm or cool temperatures, freezing tolerance when grown in warm or cool temperatures, leaf number, rosette morphology, plant height  ). We did see marked genetic differentiation among populations, possibly reflecting founder effects and a history of genetic drift. When we partitioned the phenotypic variance, there was almost no variation among maternal families within populations, limiting the potential for selection to act. The majority of the variance for all traits was among individuals within families, suggesting that environmental conditions strongly influenced the phenotype. Overall, the increasing success of V. thapsus at high elevations appears to conform more to Baker's concept of a general-purpose genotype than to invasion by rapid adaptation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, U.S.A. 2: Department of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, U.S.A.

Publication date: February 1, 2003

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