Rapid evolution of an invasive plant

John L. Maron, Montserrat Vilà, Riccardo Bommarco, Sarah Elmendorf, Paul Beardsley

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537 Citations (Scopus)


Exotic plants often face different conditions from those experienced where they are native. The general issue of how exotics respond to unfamiliar environments within their new range is not well understood. Phenotypic plasticity has historically been seen as the primary mechanism enabling exotics to colonize large, environmentally diverse areas. However, new work indicates that exotics can evolve quickly, suggesting that contemporary evolution may be more important in invasion ecology than previously appreciated. To determine the influence of contemporary evolution, phenotypic plasticity, and founder effects in affecting phenotypic variation among introduced plants, we compared the size, fecundity, and leaf area of St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) collected from native European and introduced western and central North American populations in common gardens in Washington, California, Spain, and Sweden. We also determined genetic relationships among these plants by examining variation in amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers. There was substantial genetic variation among introduced populations and evidence for multiple introductions of H. perforatum into North America. Across common gardens introduced plants were neither universally larger nor more fecund than natives. However, within common gardens, both introduced and native populations exhibited significant latitudinally based clines in size and fecundity. Clines among introduced populations broadly converged with those among native populations. Introduced and native plants originating from northern latitudes generally outperformed those originating from southern latitudes when grown in northern latitude gardens of Washington and Sweden. Conversely, plants from southern latitudes performed best in southern gardens in Spain and California. Clinal patterns in leaf area, however, did not change between gardens; European and central North American plants from northern latitudes had larger leaves than plants from southern latitudes within these regions in both Washington and California, the two gardens where this trait was measured. Introduced plants did not always occur at similar latitudes as their most closely related native progenitor, indicating that pre-adaptation (i.e., climate matching) is unlikely to be the sole explanation for clinal patterns among introduced populations. Instead, results suggest that introduced plants are evolving adaptations to broad-scale environmental conditions in their introduced range.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-280
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2004


  • Amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs)
  • EICA hypothesis
  • Founder effects
  • Hypericum perforatum
  • Introduced plants
  • Latitudinal clines
  • Molecular genetic variation
  • Population differentiation
  • Rapid evolution
  • St. John's wort


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