Original Paper

Biological Invasions

, Volume 14, Issue 7, pp 1415-1430

First online:

Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) in Florida and South America: evidence of a possible niche shift driven by hybridization

  • A. MukherjeeAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida
  • , D. A. WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Texas Christian University
  • , G. S. WheelerAffiliated withInvasive Plant Research Laboratory, USDA/ARS
  • , J. P. CudaAffiliated withDepartment of Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida
  • , S. PalAffiliated withDepartment of Statistics, University of Florida
  • , W. A. OverholtAffiliated withIndian River Research and Education Center, University of Florida Email author 

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Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi, Anacardiaceae) was introduced into Florida from South America in the 1800s and commercialized as an ornamental plant. Based on herbaria records and available literature, it began to escape cultivation and invade ruderal and natural habitats in the 1950s, and is now considered to be one of Florida’s most widespread and damaging invasive plants. Historical records and molecular evidence indicate that two genetic lineages of Brazilian peppertree were established in Florida, one in Miami on the east coast and a second near Punta Gorda on the west coast. Since arriving, the distributions of these two types have greatly expanded, and they have extensively hybridized. Principal component analysis and reciprocal niche fitting were used to test the equivalency of climatic niches of the Florida populations with the climatic niches of the two South American chloroplast haplotype groups which established in Florida. Both approaches indicated a significant shift in niches between the parental populations in the native range and the invasive populations in Florida. The models, however, closely predicted the areas of initial establishment. We hypothesize that (1) Brazilian peppertree was able to gain an initial foothold in Florida due to niche similarity and (2) the current dissimilarity in native and exotic niches is due to hybridization followed by rapid selection of genotypes adapted to Florida’s climate. In addition, to examine the potential consequence of the introduction of additional genetic diversity from the native range on invasion success, a niche model constructed with occurrences of all native genotypes was projected onto the continental United States. The result of this test indicated that under such an event, the potential invasive range would greatly expand to cover most of the southeastern USA. Our study suggests that multiple introductions from disjunct regions in the native range can facilitate invasion success.


Invasive species Niche conservation Hybridization Range expansion Lag period