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Increased phenotypic plasticity to climate may have boosted the invasion success of polyploid Centaurea stoebe

Min A Hahn, Mark van Kleunen, Heinz Müller-Schärer
PloS One 2012, 7 (11): e50284
Phenotypic plasticity may allow organisms to cope with altered environmental conditions as e.g. after the introduction into a new range. In particular polyploid organisms, containing more than two sets of chromosomes, may show high levels of plasticity, which could in turn increase their environmental tolerance and invasiveness. Here, we studied the role of phenotypic plasticity in the invasion of Centaurea stoebe (Asteraceae), which in the native range in Europe occurs as diploids and tetraploids, whereas in the introduced range in North America so far only tetraploids have been found. In a common garden experiment at two sites in the native range, we grew half-sibs of the three geo-cytotypes (native European diploids, European tetraploids and invasive North American tetraploids) from a representative sample of 27 populations. We measured the level and the adaptive significance of phenotypic plasticity in eco-physiological and life-history traits in response to the contrasting climatic conditions at the two study sites as well as three different soil conditions in pots, simulating the most crucial abiotic differences between the native and introduced range. European tetraploids showed increased levels of phenotypic plasticity as compared to diploids in response to the different climatic conditions in traits associated with rapid growth and fast phenological development. Moreover, we found evidence for adaptive plasticity in these traits, which suggests that increased plasticity may have contributed to the invasion success of tetraploid C. stoebe by providing an advantage under the novel climatic conditions. However, in invasive tetraploids phenotypic plasticity was similar to that of native tetraploids, indicating no evolution of increased plasticity during invasions. Our findings provide the first empirical support for increased phenotypic plasticity associated with polyploids, which may contribute to their success as invasive species in novel environments.


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