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Rapid divergence in physiological and life-history traits between northern and southern populations of the British introduced neo-species, Senecio squalidus


  • Eric Allan,

  • John R. Pannell

E. Allan and J. R. Pannell (, Dept of Plant Sciences, Univ. of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3RB, UK. Present address for EA: Inst. of Ecology, Univ. of Jena, Dornburger Str. 159, DE–07743 Jena, Germany.


Alien plants provide a unique opportunity to study evolution in novel environments, but relatively little is known about the extent to which they become locally adapted to different environments across their new range. Here, we compare northern and southern populations of the introduced species Senecio squalidus in Britain; S. squalidus has been in southern Britain for approximately 200 years and reached Scotland only about 50 years ago. We conducted common garden experiments at sites in the north and south of the species’ range in Britain. We also conducted glasshouse and growth chamber experiments to test the hypothesis that southern genotypes flower later, are more drought-tolerant, germinate and establish better at warmer temperatures, and are less sensitive to cold stress than their more northern counterparts. Results from the common garden experiments are largely consistent with the hypothesis of rapid adaptive divergence of populations of the species within the introduced range, with genotypes typically showing a home-site advantage. Results from the glasshouse and growth chamber experiments demonstrate adaptive divergence in ability to tolerate drought stress and high temperatures, as well as in phenology. In particular, southern genotypes were more tolerant of dry conditions and high temperatures and they flowered later than northern genotypes. Our results show that rapid local adaptation can occur in alien species, and they have implications for our understanding of the ecological genetics of range expansion of introduced weeds.