Rapid Adaptation to Climate Facilitates Range Expansion of an Invasive Plant

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Science  18 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6156, pp. 364-366
DOI: 10.1126/science.1242121

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Invade and Adapt

The mechanisms by which plant and animal species spread into new habitats have become an increasing focus of ecological research, particularly in the context of climate change and species invasions. Colautti and Barrett (p. 364) examined the ecological consequence of local adaptation evolving rapidly along a 1000-kilometer climatic gradient in purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), one of the most notorious invasive plant species in North America. These invasive populations have evolved to become locally adapted within 50 to 100 years with important ecological consequences—increasing reproductive output by more than an order of magnitude.


Adaptation to climate, evolving over contemporary time scales, could facilitate rapid range expansion across environmental gradients. Here, we examine local adaptation along a climatic gradient in the North American invasive plant Lythrum salicaria. We show that the evolution of earlier flowering is adaptive at the northern invasion front where it increases fitness as much as, or more than, the effects of enemy release and the evolution of increased competitive ability. However, early flowering decreases investment in vegetative growth, which reduces fitness by a factor of 3 in southern environments where the North American invasion commenced. Our results demonstrate that local adaptation can evolve quickly during range expansion, overcoming environmental constraints on propagule production.

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