• Alien invasive plant;
  • altitudinal gradient;
  • biological invasions;
  • bottleneck;
  • comparative approach;
  • genetic variation;
  • microsatellite


Aim  To assess the population genetic consequences of the colonization of two species with contrasting mating systems, Solidago canadensis and Lactuca serriola, along altitudinal gradients in both their native and introduced ranges.

Location  Allegheny Mountains, West Virginia and Wallowa Mountains, Oregon, USA; Valais, southern Switzerland.

Methods  Leaf material was collected from populations along altitudinal gradients and genotyped at seven microsatellite loci for each species. Differences in variability between native and introduced areas and in relation to altitude were analysed using linear models. Differences in the genetic, geographical and altitudinal structure of populations between areas were analysed by AMOVA, cluster analysis and Mantel tests.

Results  Genetic variation within and across populations of S. canadensis was significantly reduced, while populations of L. serriola were significantly more variable, in the introduced area. Genetic diversity decreased significantly with altitude for S. canadensis but not L. serriola. Genetic structure of S. canadensis was similar in both areas, and populations were isolated by geographical but not altitudinal distance. By contrast, population structure of L. serriola was much weaker in the introduced area, and populations were not isolated by distance in either area.

Main conclusions Solidago canadensis has experienced a strong genetic bottleneck on introduction to the Valais, but this has not prevented it from colonizing a wide altitudinal range. Variation in neutral markers is therefore not necessarily a good measure for judging the ecological behaviour of a species. By contrast, the greater variability of L. serriola in the introduced area, where it also occurs over a greater altitudinal range, can be explained by increased outcrossing among admixed populations. This suggests that the ecological amplitude of alien species might be enhanced after population admixture in the new range, especially for species with highly structured native populations. However, even genetically depauperate introduced populations can be expected to colonize the same environmental range that they occupy in the native area.