Environmental resource deficit may drive the evolution of intraspecific trait variation in invasive plant populations

21 August 2018

Liu, Shuangshuang; Streich, Jared; Borevitz, Justin; Li, Tingting ; Rice, Kevin; Li, Bo; Bradford, Kent

Intraspecific trait variation within natural populations (i.e., intra-population trait variation, IPTV) is the basic source for selection and can have significant ecological consequences. Higher IPTV may increase a population’s niche breath and benefit interspecies competition under a resource-limited environment, thus affecting the ability of a species to move into novel habitats. However, the reciprocal influences of variation in environmental conditions and phenotypic trait expression in spreading plant populations are not clearly defined. We propose that during invasion, IPTV and its relative change in response to key resource enrichment may increase with the resource deficit of invaded sites, and that this relationship may facilitate plant invasions into resource-limited environments. We analyzed the invasion trend, IPTV and its response to water enrichment, and moisture variability among populations of an annual grass Brachypodium hybridum in California, United States. We incorporated a genotyping-by-sequencing approach, a common garden experiment that had two water level treatments, and public plant and climate databases. Our hypothesis was supported by the observation that for populations that invaded sites with higher spring moisture deficit, both their seed biomass IPTV (for the water-enriched treatment only) and relative change of the IPTV across water treatments were larger when examined in the common garden experiment. A generally north to south spreading direction was found in these B. hybridum populations, towards a drier and warmer climate exhibiting higher moisture deficit for plant growth. Our results suggest a role for interactions between IPTV (rather than trait means) and environmental resource availability in promoting plant invasions, providing new insights into the significance of IPTV in shaping plant geographic distributions.