Forests are not immune to plant invasions: phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation allow Prunella vulgaris to colonize a temperate evergreen rainforest

Abstract

In the South American temperate evergreen rainforest (Valdivian forest), invasive plants are mainly restricted to open sites, being rare in the shaded understory. This is consistent with the notion of closed-canopy forests as communities relatively resistant to plant invasions. However, alien plants able to develop shade tolerance could be a threat to this unique forest. Phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation are two mechanisms enhancing invasiveness. Phenotypic plasticity can promote local adaptation by facilitating the establishment and persistence of invasive species in novel environments. We investigated the role of these processes in the recent colonization of Valdivian forest understory by the perennial alien herb Prunella vulgaris from nearby populations in open sites. Using reciprocal transplants, we found local adaptation between populations. Field data showed that the shade environment selected for taller plants and greater specific leaf areas. We found population differentiation and within-population genetic variation in both mean values and reaction norms to light variation of several ecophysiological traits in common gardens from seeds collected in sun and shade populations. The colonization of the forest resulted in a reduction of plastic responses to light variation, which is consistent with the occurrence of genetic assimilation and suggests that P. vulgaris individuals adapted to the shade have reduced probabilities to return to open sites. All results taken together confirm the potential for rapid evolution of shade tolerance in P. vulgaris and suggest that this alien species may pose a threat to the native understory flora of Valdivian forest.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Fernando Carrasco for field help. OG wants to acknowledge financial support provided by the Spanish Ministry for Education and Science grants RASINV GL2004-04884-C02 02/BOS (as part of the coordinate project RINVE). A CSIC-CONICYT collaborative grant to FV and EG contributed to the development of this study.

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Correspondence to Ernesto Gianoli.

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Godoy, O., Saldaña, A., Fuentes, N. et al. Forests are not immune to plant invasions: phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation allow Prunella vulgaris to colonize a temperate evergreen rainforest. Biol Invasions 13, 1615–1625 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-010-9919-0

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Keywords

  • Adaptive divergence
  • Evolutionary response
  • Genetic assimilation
  • Invasive plants
  • Temperate rainforest