Enhanced fitness due to higher fecundity, increased defence against a specialist and tolerance towards a generalist herbivore in an invasive annual plant

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The superior performance of many non-indigenous species in a new range can be attributed to different factors such as pre-adaptation to environmental conditions in new areas or to factors inherent to displacement mechanisms such as loss of co-evolved pathogens and herbivores that increase the speed of evolutionary change towards a shift in allocation from defence to growth and reproduction. To assess the importance of the different mechanisms governing the success of Conyza canadensis, a globally successful invader, we simultaneously tested several recent hypotheses potentially explaining the factors leading to biological invasion.


We tested (i) whether plants from the non-native range showed a higher fitness than plants from the native North American range, (ii) whether they differed in resistance against an invasive generalist herbivore, the slug Arion lusitanicus and against a recently established specialist aphid herbivore, Uroleucon erigeronense and (iii) experimentally assessed whether C. canadensis releases allelopathic chemicals that have harmful effects on competing species in the non-native range. We compared populations along a similar latitudinal gradient both in the native North American and invasive European range and analysed patterns of adaptive clinal variation in biomass production.

Important Findings

The invasion success of C. canadensis in Europe cannot be attributed to a single trait, but to a combination of factors. Invasive plants benefited from increased growth and above all, increased reproduction (a key trait in an annual plant) and were less attacked by a co-migrated specialist enemy. The observed loss of defence against generalist slugs did not translate into a decreased fitness as invasive C. canadensis plants showed a high re-growth potential. In contrast to earlier in vitro studies, we detected no allelopathic effects on the competing flora in the non-native range. The latitudinal cline in vegetative biomass production in the non-native range observed in our common garden study indicates a high adaptive potential. However, only further genetic studies will provide conclusive evidence whether the differentiation in the non-native range is caused by pre-adaptation and sorting-out processes of putatively repeatedly introduced populations of this composite, long-distance disperser with highly volatile seeds or evolved de novo as a rapid response to new selection pressures in the non-native range.

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