Phenotypic plasticity of reproductive traits in response to food availability in invasive and native species of nematode
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- Niu, H., Zhao, L. & Sun, J. Biol Invasions (2013) 15: 1407. doi:10.1007/s10530-012-0379-6
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Invasive species cause severe ecological and economic damage; however, the mechanisms underlying their successful invasion often remain elusive. In the case of Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, a global quarantine pest which invaded Asia and Europe, it has been suggested that this species possesses highly competitive abilities, which promotes its establishment and rapid spread. To explore biological traits that may explain its highly competitive abilities, we focused on expression of phenotypic plasticity in response to the food conditions experienced by the females during their development as juveniles in the invasive species B. xylophilus and native species Bursaphelenchus mucronatus. We report an unexpected significant difference of phenotypic trade-off between egg number and egg size in the invasive species B. xylophilus and native species B. mucronatus. This leads to superior propagation ability of invasive species, under high and low food conditions in culture. These effects reflect adaptive optimal resource allocation where more eggs are produced in favorable environments to enhance population viability. Furthermore, we show that B. xylophilus eggs hatched earlier than B. mucronatus when their parents experienced high food availability. Thus, this study revealed, for the first time, phenotypic plasticity of reproductive traits in B. xylophilus which empowers the species a competitive advantage relative to their native counterpart B. mucronatus when they are under different range of food availability. These results are a step towards answering the vital question of how an exotic invasive species exclude a native species from its original niche.