Colonization success increases with the size of the founding group. Both demographic and genetic factors underlie this relationship, yet because genetic diversity normally increases with numbers of individuals, their relative importance remains unclear. Furthermore, their influence may depend on the environment and may change as colonization progresses from establishment through population growth and then dispersal. We tested the roles of genetics, demography and environment in the founding of Tribolium castaneum populations. Using three genetic backgrounds (inbred to outbred), we released individuals of four founding sizes (2-32) into two environments (natal and novel), and measured establishment success, initial population growth and dispersal. Establishment increased with founding size, whereas population growth was shaped by founding size, genetic background and environment. Population growth was depressed by inbreeding at small founding sizes, but growth rates were similar across genetic backgrounds at large founding size, an interaction indicating that the magnitude of the genetic effects depends upon founding population size. Dispersal rates increased with genetic diversity. These results suggest that numbers of individuals may drive initial establishment, but that subsequent population growth and spread, even in the first generation of colonization, can be driven by genetic processes, including both reduced growth owing to inbreeding depression, and increased dispersal with increased genetic diversity.
Intra-specific variation in host-plant quality affects herbivore foraging decisions and, in turn, herbivore foraging decisions mediate plant fitness. In particular, variation in defenses against herbivores, both among and within plants, shapes herbivore behavior. If variation in defenses is genetically based, it can respond to natural selection by herbivores. We quantified intra-specific variation in iridoid glycosides, trichome length, and leaf strength in common mullein (Verbascum thapsus L, Scrophulariaceae) among maternal lines within a population and among leaves within plants, and related this variation to feeding preferences of a generalist herbivore, Trichopulsia ni Hübner. We found significant variation in all three defenses among maternal lines, with T. ni preferring plants with lower investment in chemical, but not mechanical, defense. Within plants, old leaves had lower levels of all defenses than young leaves, and were strongly preferred by T. ni. Caterpillars also preferred leaves with trichomes removed to leaves with trichomes intact. Differences among maternal lines indicate that phenotypic variation in defenses likely has a genetic basis. Furthermore, these results reveal that the feeding behaviors of T. ni map onto variation in plant defense in a predictable way. This work highlights the importance of variation in host-plant quality in driving interactions between plants and their herbivores.
Trade-offs between performance and the ability to tolerate abiotic and biotic stress have been suggested to explain both the success of invasive species and phenotypic differentiation between native and invasive populations. It is critical to sample broadly across both ranges and to account for latitudinal clines and maternal effects when testing this premise. Wild-collected Centaurea diffusa seeds were grown in benign and stressful conditions (drought, flooding, nutrient stress and simulated herbivory), to evaluate whether native and introduced individuals differ in performance or life history phenotypes. A second experiment used glasshouse-grown seeds to evaluate whether patterns remain comparable when maternal environment is consistent. Many traits differed between ranges, and in all cases but one, invasive individuals grew larger, performed better, or matured later. No trade-off in performance with herbivore defense was evident. Invasive populations may have been released from a trade-off between growth and drought tolerance apparent in the native range. Larger individuals with delayed maturity and greater reproductive potential have evolved in invasive populations, a pattern evident across broad population sampling, and after latitude and maternal environment were considered. Release from abiotic stress tolerance trade-offs may be important for the invasion success of Centaurea diffusa.
A fundamental assumption in invasion biology is that most invasive species exhibit enhanced performance in their introduced range relative to their home ranges. This idea has given rise to numerous hypotheses explaining "invasion success" by virtue of altered ecological and evolutionary pressures. There are surprisingly few data, however, testing the underlying assumption that the performance of introduced populations, including organism size, reproductive output, and abundance, is enhanced in their introduced compared to their native range. Here, we combined data from published studies to test this hypothesis for 26 plant and 27 animal species that are considered to be invasive. On average, individuals of these 53 species were indeed larger, more fecund, and more abundant in their introduced ranges. The overall mean, however, belied significant variability among species, as roughly half of the investigated species (N=27) performed similarly when compared to conspecific populations in their native range. Thus, although some invasive species are performing better in their new ranges, the pattern is not universal, and just as many are performing largely the same across ranges.
How plant populations, communities, and ecosystems respond to climate change is a critical focus in ecology today. The responses of introduced species may be especially rapid. Current models that incorporate temperature and precipitation suggest that future Bromus tectorum invasion risk is low for the Colorado Plateau. With a field warming experiment at two sites in southeastern Utah, we tested this prediction over 4 years, measuring B. tectorum phenology, biomass, and reproduction. In a complimentary greenhouse study, we assessed whether changes in field B. tectorum biomass and reproductive output influence offspring performance. We found that following a wet winter and early spring, the timing of spring growth initiation, flowering, and summer senescence all advanced in warmed plots at both field sites and the shift in phenology was progressively larger with greater warming. Earlier green-up and development was associated with increases in B. tectorum biomass and reproductive output, likely due early spring growth, when soil moisture was not limiting, and a lengthened growing season. Seeds collected from plants grown in warmed plots had higher biomass and germination rates and lower mortality than seeds from ambient plots. However, in the following two dry years, we observed no differences in phenology between warmed and ambient plots. In addition, warming had a generally negative effect on B. tectorum biomass and reproduction in dry years and this negative effect was significant in the plots that received the highest warming treatment. In contrast to models that predict negative responses of B. tectorum to warmer climate on the Colorado Plateau, the effects of warming were more nuanced, relied on background climate, and differed between the two field sites. Our results highlight the importance of considering the interacting effects of temperature, precipitation, and site-specific characteristics such as soil texture, on plant demography and have direct implications for B. tectorum invasion dynamics on the Colorado Plateau.
Bottlenecks in population size reduce genetic diversity and increase inbreeding, which can lead to inbreeding depression. It is thus puzzling how introduced species, which typically pass through bottlenecks, become such successful invaders. However, under certain theoretical conditions, bottlenecks of intermediate size can actually purge the alleles that cause inbreeding depression. Although this process has been confirmed in model laboratory systems, it has yet to be observed in natural invasive populations. We evaluate whether such purging could facilitate biological invasions by using the world-wide invasion of the ladybird (or ladybug) Harmonia axyridis. We first show that invasive populations endured a bottleneck of intermediate intensity. We then demonstrate that replicate introduced populations experience almost none of the inbreeding depression suffered by native populations. Thus, rather than posing a barrier to invasion as often assumed, bottlenecks, by purging deleterious alleles, can enable the evolution of invaders that maintain high fitness even when inbred.
Proving allelopathic chemical interference is a daunting endeavor, in that production and movement of a phytotoxin from a donor plant to a receiving plant must be demonstrated in the substrate in which the plants grow, which is usually a complex soil matrix. The soil levels or soil flux levels of the compound generated by the donor must be proven to be sufficient to adversely affect the receiving plant. Reports of (-)-catechin to be the novel weapon used by Centaurea stoebe (spotted knapweed) to invade new territories are not supported by the paper featured in this Addendum, nor by papers produced by two other laboratories. These papers find that (-)-catechin levels in soil in which C. stoebe grows are orders of magnitude below levels that cause only minor growth effects on reported sensitive species. Furthermore, the claim that (-)-catechin acts as a phytotoxin through causing oxidative damage is refuted by the fact that the molecule is a strong antioxidant and is quickly degraded by extracellular root enzymes.
Populations are introduced into novel environments in different contexts, one being the biological control of pests. Despite intense efforts, less than half introduced biological control agents establish. Among the possible approaches to improve biological control, one is to better understand the processes that underpin introductions and contribute to ecological and evolutionary success. In this perspective, we first review the demographic and genetic processes at play in small populations, be they stochastic or deterministic. We discuss the theoretical outcomes of these different processes with respect to individual fitness, population growth rate, and establishment probability. Predicted outcomes differ subtly in some cases, but enough so that the evaluating results of introductions have the potential to reveal which processes play important roles in introduced populations. Second, we attempt to link the theory we have discussed with empirical data from biological control introductions. A main result is that there are few available data, but we nonetheless report on an increasing number of well-designed, theory-driven, experimental approaches. Combining demography and genetics from both theoretical and empirical perspectives highlights novel and exciting avenues for research on the biology of small, introduced populations, and great potential for improving both our understanding and practice of biological control.
Optimal defense theory posits that plants with limited resources deploy chemical defenses based on the fitness value of different tissues and their probability of attack. However, what constitutes optimal defense depends on the identity of the herbivores involved in the interaction. Generalists, which are not tightly coevolved with their many host plants, are typically deterred by chemical defenses, while coevolved specialists are often attracted to these same chemicals. This imposes an "evolutionary dilemma" in which generalists and specialists exert opposing selection on plant investment in defense, thereby stabilizing defenses at intermediate levels. We used the natural shift in herbivore community composition that typifies many plant invasions to test a novel, combined prediction of optimal defense theory and the evolutionary dilemma model: that the within-plant distribution of defenses reflects both the value of different tissues (i.e., young vs. old leaves) and the relative importance of specialist and generalist herbivores in the community. Using populations of Verbascum thapsus exposed to ambient herbivory in its native range (where specialist and generalist chewing herbivores are prevalent) and its introduced range (where only generalist chewing herbivores are prevalent), we illustrate significant differences in the way iridoid glycosides are distributed among young and old leaves. Importantly, high-quality young leaves are 6.5x more highly defended than old leaves in the introduced range, but only 2x more highly defended in the native range. Additionally, defense levels are tracked by patterns of chewing damage, with damage restricted mostly to low-quality old leaves in the introduced range, but not the native range. Given that whole-plant investment in defense does not differ between ranges, introduced mullein may achieve increased fitness simply by optimizing its within-plant distribution of defense in the absence of certain specialist herbivores.
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