Increased fitness and plasticity of an invasive species in its introduced range: a study using Senecio pterophorus


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  • 1When a plant species is introduced into a new range, it may differentiate genetically from the original populations in the home range. This genetic differentiation may influence the extent to which the invasion of the new range is successful. We tested this hypothesis by examining Senecio pterophorus, a South African shrub that was introduced into NE Spain about 40 years ago. We predicted that in the introduced range invasive populations would perform better and show greater plasticity than native populations.
  • 2Individuals of S. pterophorus from four Spanish (invasive) and four South African (native) populations were grown in Catalonia, Spain, in a common garden in which disturbance and water availability were manipulated. Fitness traits and several ecophysiological parameters were measured.
  • 3The invasive populations of S. pterophorus survived better throughout the summer drought in a disturbed (unvegetated) environment than native South African populations. This success may be attributable to the lower specific leaf area (SLA) and better water content regulation of the invasive populations in this treatment.
  • 4Invasive populations displayed up to three times higher relative growth rate than native populations under conditions of disturbance and non-limiting water availability.
  • 5The reproductive performance of the invasive populations was higher in all treatments except under the most stressful conditions (i.e. in non-watered undisturbed plots), where no plant from either population flowered.
  • 6The results for leaf parameters and chlorophyll fluorescence measurements suggested that the greater fitness of the invasive populations could be attributed to more favourable ecophysiological responses.
  • 7Synthesis. Spanish invasive populations of S. pterophorus performed better in the presence of high levels of disturbance, and displayed higher plasticity of fitness traits in response to resource availability than native South African populations. Our results suggest that genetic differentiation from source populations associated with founding may play a role in invasion success.