, Volume 12, Issue 7, pp 2251-2264
Date: 08 Nov 2009

Disentangling the dynamics of invasive fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis Poir. species complex) in the Hawaiian Islands

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Abstract

Studies investigating the genetic variation of invasive species render opportunities to better understand the dynamics of biological invasions from an ecological and evolutionary perspective. In this study, we investigate fine-scale population genetic structure of invasive Senecio madagascariensis (fireweed) using microsatellite markers to determine levels of genetic diversity and how it pertains to introduction history of this species within and among the Hawaiian Islands. Dispersal patterns were interpreted and, together with a habitat suitability analysis, we aim to describe the potential range expansion of S. madgascariensis within the islands. Bayesian and frequency-based analyses revealed genetic structure with two major genetic demes corresponding to the two fireweed-infested islands of Maui and Hawaii. Both these demes showed further genetic sub-structure, each consisting of three genetically distinct subgroups. Overall, fireweed showed significant levels of inbreeding. Major genetic demes (Maui and Hawaii) differed in observed heterozygosities, inbreeding and genetic structure, each harbouring a large proportion of private alleles. In contrast to the current understanding of fireweed’s introduction history between the Hawaiian Islands, fine-scale population genetic parameters suggest that this species has been introduced at least twice, possibly even more, to the archipelago. Spatial analyses also revealed high correlation between genetic similarity and geographical proximity (>2 km apart) followed by a sharp decline. In addition, a single population was identified that likely resulted from a rare human- or animal-mediated extreme long-distance dispersal event from Maui to Hawaii. Bayesian and likelihood estimates of ‘first generation migrants’ also concurred that contemporary dispersal occurs more frequently over smaller spatial scales than larger scales. These findings indicate that spread in this species occurs primarily via a stratified strategy. Predictions from habitat suitability models indicate all Hawaiian Islands as highly suitable for fireweed invasion and the movement of propagules to currently uninfested islands and outlying suitable habitats should be avoided to circumvent further expansions of the invasion.