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Keywords:

  • exotic species;
  • genetic bottlenecks;
  • local adaptation;
  • molecular diversity;
  • non-native species;
  • quantitative trait evolution

Abstract

Invasive species are predicted to suffer from reductions in genetic diversity during founding events, reducing adaptive potential. Integrating evidence from two literature reviews and two case studies, we address the following questions: How much genetic diversity is lost in invasions? Do multiple introductions ameliorate this loss? Is there evidence for loss of diversity in quantitative traits? Do invaders that have experienced strong bottlenecks show adaptive evolution? How do multiple introductions influence adaptation on a landscape scale? We reviewed studies of 80 species of animals, plants, and fungi that quantified nuclear molecular diversity within introduced and source populations. Overall, there were significant losses of both allelic richness and heterozygosity in introduced populations, and large gains in diversity were rare. Evidence for multiple introductions was associated with increased diversity, and allelic variation appeared to increase over long timescales (~100 years), suggesting a role for gene flow in augmenting diversity over the long-term. We then reviewed the literature on quantitative trait diversity and found that broad-sense variation rarely declines in introductions, but direct comparisons of additive variance were lacking. Our studies of Hypericum canariense invasions illustrate how populations with diminished diversity may still evolve rapidly. Given the prevalence of genetic bottlenecks in successful invading populations and the potential for adaptive evolution in quantitative traits, we suggest that the disadvantages associated with founding events may have been overstated. However, our work on the successful invader Verbascum thapsus illustrates how multiple introductions may take time to commingle, instead persisting as a ‘mosaic of maladaptation’ where traits are not distributed in a pattern consistent with adaptation. We conclude that management limiting gene flow among introduced populations may reduce adaptive potential but is unlikely to prevent expansion or the evolution of novel invasive behaviour.