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Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Glucosinolate Content Varies Across a Natural Light Gradient


Garlic mustard is a well-known invader of deciduous forests of North America, yet the influence of environmental factors on garlic mustard allelochemical production is not well understood. Three experiments were conducted to detect interactions between one garlic mustard allelochemical (glucosinolate) production and light availability. First, to detect patterns of glucosinolate production across a natural light gradient, leaves and roots of mature plants and first-year rosettes were sampled in patches ranging from 100 to 2 % of full sun within an Indiana forest. Second, to determine whether genetic variation drives observed correlations between glucosinolate content and light, seed collected across light gradients within six sites was grown in a common garden and glucosinolate production was measured. Finally, to understand whether local adaptation occurred in garlic mustard’s response to light, seed collected from defined light environments across six sites was grown under four light treatments. Results of the field sampling showed that mature plants’ root glucosinolate content was elevated in high compared to low light. In the common garden experiment, however, there was no correlation between light availability at seed origin and constitutive glucosinolate content. Additionally, in the common light treatments, there was no evidence for local adaptation to light environment. Overall, the results indicate that plasticity in response to light, not genetic variation among plants growing in different light environments, generates correlations between glucosinolate content and light in the field. Since mature garlic mustard populations in high light may exhibit increased glucosinolate content, it makes them potential targets for management.

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I would like to thank Therese Burkhard and Gerald Smith for extensive field and laboratory assistance, as well as Heather Reynolds for advice and feedback. Funding for chemical analyses was provided by NSF DEB-1310750 Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, and contributors to the #SciFund Challenge project ‘Alien Invaders: Armed and Dangerous.’

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Correspondence to Lauren M. Smith.

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Smith, L.M. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Glucosinolate Content Varies Across a Natural Light Gradient. J Chem Ecol 41, 486–492 (2015).

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  • Invasion
  • Allelopathy
  • Context-dependence
  • Plasticity
  • Local adaptation