Plants evolve greater phenotypic plasticity in invaded range

I’ve been interested in the expression of phenotypic plasticity by invasive plants since studying Melaleuca quinquenervia population genetics for my dissertation.  Often invasive plants seem to be able to grow in a wider range of habitats and perform better in their invaded range than in their native range.  The ability to change traits depending on environmental conditions, phenotypic plasticity, could help explain this success.  A study by Sonia Sultan et al. (2012) shows that Polygonum cespitosum, Oriental lady’s thumb, has evolved to have greater phenotypic plasticity and higher reproductive output in response to the more open, sunny conditions in its invaded range in the western United States.  They tracked populations over 11 years to observe differences among populations in their evolutionary trajectories.  It’s not easy to keep a study going for so long and it looks like it has yielded some really interesting results!

Sonia E. Sultan, Tim Horgan-Kobelski, Lauren M. Nichols, Charlotte E. Riggs & Ryan K. Waples. 2012. A resurrection study reveals rapid adaptive evolution within populations of an invasive plant. Evolutionary Applications, online 09 Sept. DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-4571.2012.00287.x

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