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Genetic uniformity characterizes the invasive spread of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), a clonal aquatic plant


Spencer C. H. Barrett, Fax: 1-416-978-5878; E-mail:


Aquatic plant invasions are often associated with long-distance dispersal of vegetative propagules and prolific clonal reproduction. These reproductive features combined with genetic bottlenecks have the potential to severely limit genetic diversity in invasive populations. To investigate this question we conducted a global scale population genetic survey using amplified fragment length polymorphism markers of the world’s most successful aquatic plant invader –Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth). We sampled 1140 ramets from 54 populations from the native (South America) and introduced range (Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, Central America and the Caribbean). Although we detected 49 clones, introduced populations exhibited very low genetic diversity and little differentiation compared with those from the native range, and ∼80% of introduced populations were composed of a single clone. A widespread clone (‘W’) detected in two Peruvian populations accounted for 70.9% of the individuals sampled and dominated in 74.5% of the introduced populations. However, samples from Bangladesh and Indonesia were composed of different genotypes, implicating multiple introductions to the introduced range. Nine of 47 introduced populations contained clonal diversity suggesting that sexual recruitment occurs in some invasive sites where environmental conditions favour seedling establishment. The global patterns of genetic diversity in E. crassipes likely result from severe genetic bottlenecks during colonization and prolific clonal propagation. The prevalence of the ‘W’ genotype throughout the invasive range may be explained by stochastic sampling, or possibly because of pre-adaptation of the ‘W’ genotype to tolerate low temperatures.