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Keywords:

  • Adaptive;
  • alien;
  • climate change;
  • environmental gradient;
  • indigenous;
  • resource;
  • weed

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 419–431

Abstract

Do invasive plant species have greater phenotypic plasticity than non-invasive species? And, if so, how does this affect their fitness relative to native, non-invasive species? What role might this play in plant invasions? To answer these long-standing questions, we conducted a meta-analysis using data from 75 invasive/non-invasive species pairs. Our analysis shows that invasive species demonstrate significantly higher phenotypic plasticity than non-invasive species. To examine the adaptive benefit of this plasticity, we plotted fitness proxies against measures of plasticity in several growth, morphological and physiological traits to test whether greater plasticity is associated with an improvement in estimated fitness. Invasive species were nearly always more plastic in their response to greater resource availability than non-invasives but this plasticity was only sometimes associated with a fitness benefit. Intriguingly, non-invasive species maintained greater fitness homoeostasis when comparing growth between low and average resource availability. Our finding that invasive species are more plastic in a variety of traits but that non-invasive species respond just as well, if not better, when resources are limiting, has interesting implications for predicting responses to global change.