Understanding the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape the genetic structure of invasive populations and facilitate their expansion across a large spectrum of environments is critical for the prediction of spread and management of ongoing invasions. Here, we study the dynamics of postestablishment colonization in the colonial ascidian Botrylloides violaceus, a notorious marine invader. After its initial introduction from the Northwest Pacific, B. violaceus spread rapidly along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of North America, impacting both aquaculture facilities and natural ecosystems. We compare genetic diversity and patterns of gene flow among 25 populations (N = 679) from the West and East coasts, and evaluate the contribution of sexual vs. asexual reproduction to this species’ invasion success using data from the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene and 13 nuclear polymorphic microsatellite loci. Our results reveal contrasting patterns of spread in the coastal waters of North America. While the West coast was colonized by noncontiguous (long-distance) dispersal, the East coast invasion appears to have occurred through contiguous (stepping-stone) spread. Molecular data further indicate that although dispersal in colonial ascidians is predominantly achieved through sexually produced propagules, aquaculture practices such as high-pressure washing can facilitate fragmentation and potentially exacerbate infestations and spread via asexual propagules. The results presented here suggest that caution should be used against the general assumption that all invasions, even within a single species, exhibit similar patterns of colonization, as highly contrasting dynamics may transpire in different invaded ranges.
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