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Keywords:

  • Acacia saligna;
  • biological invasions;
  • chloroplast capture;
  • genetic novelty;
  • introgression;
  • tree invasions

Abstract

Acacia saligna is a species complex that has become invasive in a number of countries worldwide where it has caused substantial environmental and economic impacts. Understanding genetic and other factors contributing to its success may allow managers to limit future invasions of closely related species. We used three molecular markers to compare the introduced range (South Africa) to the native range (Western Australia). Nuclear markers showed that invasive populations are divergent from native populations and most closely related to a cultivated population in Western Australia. We also found incongruence between nuclear and chloroplast data that, together with the long history of cultivation of the species, suggest that introgressive hybridization (coupled with chloroplast capture) may have occurred within A. saligna. While we could not definitively prove introgression, the genetic distance between cultivated and native A. saligna populations was comparable to known interspecific divergences among other Acacia species. Therefore, cultivation, multiple large-scale introductions and possibly introgressive hybridization have rapidly given rise to the divergent genetic entity present in South Africa. This may explain the known global variation in invasiveness and inaccuracy of native bioclimatic models in predicting potential distributions.