Evolution and Ecology of Invasive Plant Species

Role of Genome Duplication, Climate Change and Natural Enemies in the Range Expansion and Invasibility of Plants

Project Overview

Identifying traits that distinguish invasive from non-invasive species is central to invasion biology and studies indicate that plants with a certain suite of traits can be more successful. Genome characteristics such as ploidy level and genome size (GS) are attributes that influence many traits at different levels of biological organization and are of great interest in ecology and evolution. Evidence suggests that ploidy and GS variation within ploids influence plant traits that in turn, can affect interactions with natural enemies and response to environmental change and ultimately invasiveness. Genomic variation can lead to the spread or decline of a plant species in novel environments. With Laura Meyerson, lead investigator, and a team of international scientists that form PhragNet; see below), our goals are to:

(1) Document variability in GS and ploidy level in Phragmites australis at the local (within site) and regional (spanning 2 continents) scales in field surveys in North America (NA) and Europe (EU).

(2) Using common gardens (Fig. 1) on both continents with plant material collected from mixed cytotype populations, experimentally test functional variability in fitness, phenological, physiological, morphological and natural-enemy defense traits among genetic variants. Also, in the gardens, test predictions that plants with different GS and ploidy exhibit different degrees of plasticity and tradeoffs involving fitness and defensive traits.

(3) Conduct an experiment to assess the effect of ploidy, GS and genotype on intra- and inter-specific competition; a plant trait often linked to invasion success and range expansion.

(4) Investigate the effects of climate-change variables and natural enemies on trait expression for Phragmites variants with different ploidy and GS levels.

(5) Using field surveys, assess how environmental factors influence the distribution and clonal growth of genetic variants and whether the diversity and impact of natural enemies varies among genotypes, ploidies, GS.

(6) Finally, use structural equation models to investigate the combined effects of cytotype, genotype, herbivores, and climate-change variables on plant fitness, range expansion and invasiveness.sing field surveys, assess how environmental factors influence the distribution and clonal growth of genetic variants and whether the diversity and impact of natural enemies varies among genotypes, ploidies, GS.

common garden of Phragmites
Fig. 1. Common garden at LSU consisting of more than 70 genotypes of P. australis collected from all over North America. Replicate gardens exist in Kingston, RI, Aarhus, Denmark, and Průhonice, Czech Republic. Additional gardens are being established in South Africa, Italy, Australia, and China as part of PhragNet.
students dwarfed by Phragmites
Invasive Phragmites australis in coastal Louisiana dwarfs Veaceslav Fedorcenco (left) and Ganesh Bhattarai (right)

No prior study has definitively investigated the effects of cytogenetic and genotypic characteristics on functional plant traits at multiple scales. We address the following questions: What is the intraspecific variation in GS and genome copy number within Phragmites and is this structured geographically, by origin and/or invaded region? How do cytological, genetic, ecological and geographical factors interact to determine the population invasiveness at the intraspecific level? What are the direct and indirect effects of these determinants and their relative contribution to determining local and regional patterns of spread and invasion? Three approaches are being used to address these questions: (i) genetic and cytogenetics, (ii) common garden experiments and (iii) field surveys.

Our focal plant, the cosmopolitan species Phragmites australis, is a model system for studying the questions and objectives outlined above (Meyerson et al. 2016). P. australis is adapted to wide climatic and latitudinal ranges (±60°), including extreme environments. It exhibits high genotypic diversity, intra- and interspecific hybridization, globally distributed diverse ploids (4x-12x, 22x) and GS variability within ploidy levels, and a near complete evolutionary history.

Common-Garden Study

Meyerson, L. A., J. T. Cronin, G. P. Bhattarai, H. Brix, C. Lambertini, M. Lučanová, S. Rinehart, J. Suda and P. Pyšek. 2016. Ploidy level and nuclear genome size modify the expression of plant traits and response to herbivory in Phragmites australis. Biological Invasions (in press).

graph of traits vs GSP
Fig 2. The relationship between monoploid genome size and P. australis (A) ln stem height (cm), and (B) percent water content, and (C) ambient aphid abundance per stem.

We studied the relationship between genome size and ploidy level variation and plant traits for Phragmites australis. Using a common garden in Aarhus, Denmark that contained a global collection of 166 source populations of P. australis, we investigated the influence of monoploid genome size and ploidy level on the expression of P. australis growth, nutrition and herbivore-defense traits and whether monoploid genome size and ploidy level play different roles in plant trait expression.

We found that both monoploid genome size and latitude contributed to variation in traits that we studied for P. australis, with latitude being generally better predictor of trait values and that ploidy level and its interaction with monoploid genome size and latitude also contributed to trait variation. We also found that for four traits, tetraploids and octoploids had different relationships with the monoploid genome size. For example, for tetraploids, stem height and leaf water content showed a positive relationship with monoploid genome size, but octoploids had a negative relationship with monoploid genome size for stem height and no relationship for leaf water content (Fig. 2A,B).

As genome size within octoploids increased, the number of aphids colonizing leaves decreased whereas for tetraploids there was a quadratic, though non-significant, relationship (Fig. 2C). Similarly, we found that the relationship between plant traits and latitude depended on ploidy number. Octoploids were sensitive to the latitudinal gradient – stem number increased, water content decreased and palatability to aphids was humped-shaped with increasing latitude (Fig. 3). In contrast, tetraploids showed very little relationship between these same traits and latitude (Fig. 3).

graph of traits vs latitude
Fig 3. The relationship between latitude and P. australis (A) stem number, (B) percent water content, and (C) palatability to aphids (colony mass at 10 d).

Generally we found that tetraploids were taller, chemically better defended, had a greater number of stems, higher leaf water content, and supported more aphids than octoploids.

This study suggests that there are potential trade-offs among plant traits mediated by monoploid genome size and ploidy with respect to fitness and defense and that the latitude of plant origin is a significant determinant of trait expression even after a decade or more of growing in a common garden setting. Under climate change, some genome size and ploidy variants (both within and among plant species) may more successfully cope with changing external filters (e.g., temperature, salinity, drought), owing to greater phenotypic plasticity and to fitness traits that vary with cytotype. As such, some cytotype and genome size variants may be favored by natural selection, leading to changes in population genome size and/or ploidy structure, particularly at species range limits. Such changes could foster “bottom up” effects and further interact with climate change and distribution of natural enemies that are, and will continue to be, important drivers of range expansions and species invasions.

PhragNet – Global Phragmites Network

In 2013, Meyerson and Cronin, along with Professor Hans Brix (Aarhus Univ., Denmark) and Professor Petr Pyšek (Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic) formed the Global Phragmites Network (PhragNet). This international group of researchers has collaborated on multiple individual research projects in the USA and in Europe since 2010. In 2013, they collectively identified a need to advance the understanding of the effects of global environmental change on plant species distributions, range expansion and plant invasions, and plant-herbivore interactions. All four researcher groups have established active common gardens containing diverse genotypes of Phragmites at their universities, and have begun to exchange plant materials so that a core set of identical clones exist in all four gardens. PhragNet has since expanded to include:

Giuseppe Brundu and Vanessa Lozano, Department of Agriculture, University of Sassari, Italy

Susan Canavan, Center for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany & Zoology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Stefano Castiglione and Angela Cicatelli, Department of Chemistry and Biology, University of Salerno, Italy

Melissa McCormick, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Maryland, USA

Tom Mozdzer, Department of Biology, Bryn Mawr University, Pennsylvania, USA

Renqing Wang, Shandong University, China

Dennis Whigham, Senior scientist and Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Maryland USA

Jan Čuda and Wen-Yong Guo, Institute of Botany, Czech Academy of Science, Pruhonice, Czech Republic

Franziska Eller and Carla Lambertini, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

Jasmin G. Packer, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Austalia

PhragNet’s objective is to foster synergistic collaborations in pursuit of the above stated goals. Participation in the network is open to anyone interested in these goals and we expect PhragNet to grow in membership over time.

Phragmites symposium participants
Participants in the Phragmites symposium at the Society of Wetland Scientist’s meeting in Providence, RI (2015). Many of the participants are members of PhragNet.