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Invasive species grows faster, competes better, and shows greater evolution toward increased seed size and growth than exotic non-invasive congeners


Comparisons of introduced exotics that invade and those that do not can yield important insights into the ecology of invasions. Centaurea solstitialis, C. calcitrapa, and C. sulphurea are closely related, share a similar life history and were each introduced to western North America from Southern Europe ~100–200 years ago. However, of these three species, only C. solstitialis has become invasive. We collected seeds from different populations for each of the three species both in the native range of Spain and the non-native range of California, measured individual seed mass, and grew plants from these seeds in a greenhouse experiment in Montana. The invasive C. solstitialis had the smallest seeds and seedlings of the three congeners. However, in contrast to its non-invasive congeners, C. solstitialis had the highest relative growth rates when grown in competition. C. solstitialis was also the only species to show significant differences in traits between populations from different ranges, with plants from the non-native range of California demonstrating greater competitive resistance, larger seed size, and larger seedling mass than plants from the native range in Spain. This suggests that C. solstitialis may be evolving toward larger seed and seedling sizes in this non-native range. Relative growth rate showed no inter-regional variation for any species, but was higher for C. solstitialis than its congeners when in competition, and thus may interact with the evolution of larger seeds and plant mass in ways that contribute to the extraordinary invasive success of this species.

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Thanks to Dr. Esther Bochet for help with theory. Thanks to Dr. Susana Paula for statistical advice and for help with fieldwork. Thanks to everyone at Callaway Lab for their help with lab work. RCG was funded by the MILES/HHMI program of The University of Montana; RMC was funded by NSF-DEB 0614406 and DM was funded by the Spanish Micinn (2008-0662) and by Portuguese FCT (SFRH/BPD/72595/2010).

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Correspondence to Ryan C. Graebner.

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Graebner, R.C., Callaway, R.M. & Montesinos, D. Invasive species grows faster, competes better, and shows greater evolution toward increased seed size and growth than exotic non-invasive congeners. Plant Ecol 213, 545–553 (2012).

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  • Biogeography
  • Centaurea
  • Competition
  • Congener
  • Invasion
  • Relative growth rate
  • Seed mass