The molecular basis of invasiveness: differences in gene expression of native and introduced common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) in stressful and benign environments



Although the evolutionary and ecological processes that contribute to plant invasion have been the focus of much research, investigation into the molecular basis of invasion is just beginning. Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) is an annual weed native to North America and has been introduced to Europe where it has become invasive. Using a custom-designed NimbleGen oligoarray, we examined differences in gene expression between five native and six introduced populations of common ragweed in three different environments (control, light stress and nutrient stress), as well as two different time points. We identified candidate genes that may contribute to invasiveness in common ragweed based on differences in expression between native and introduced populations from Europe. Specifically, we found 180 genes where range explained a significant proportion of the variation in gene expression and a further 103 genes with a significant range by treatment interaction. Several of these genes are potentially involved in the metabolism of secondary compounds, stress response and the detoxification of xenobiotics. Previously, we found more rapid growth and greater reproductive success in introduced populations, particularly in benign and competitive (light stress) environments, and many of these candidate genes potentially underlie these growth differences. We also found expression differences among populations within each range, reflecting either local adaptation or neutral processes, although no associations with climate or latitude were identified. These data provide a first step in identifying genes that are involved with introduction success in an aggressive annual weed.