A resurrection study reveals rapid adaptive evolution within populations of an invasive plant



Biology Department, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, USA.

Tel.: 1-860-685-3493;

fax: 1-860-685-3279;

e-mail: sesultan@wesleyan.edu


The future spread and impact of an introduced species will depend on how it adapts to the abiotic and biotic conditions encountered in its new range, so the potential for rapid evolution subsequent to species introduction is a critical, evolutionary dimension of invasion biology. Using a resurrection approach, we provide a direct test for change over time within populations in a species' introduced range, in the Asian shade annual Polygonum cespitosum. We document, over an 11-year period, the evolution of increased reproductive output as well as greater physiological and root-allocational plasticity in response to the more open, sunny conditions found in the North American range in which the species has become invasive. These findings show that extremely rapid adaptive modifications to ecologically-important traits and plastic expression patterns can evolve subsequent to a species' introduction, within populations established in its introduced range. This study is one of the first to directly document evolutionary change in adaptive plasticity. Such rapid evolutionary changes can facilitate the spread of introduced species into novel habitats and hence contribute to their invasive success in a new range. The data also reveal how evolutionary trajectories can differ among populations in ways that can influence invasion dynamics.