Biodiversity is changing due to global climate change and local drivers such as the introduction of invasive species, which are considered one of the greatest threats to natural ecosystems. Despite increasing impacts, little is known about the evolutionary mechanisms that lead to invasiveness in introduced species. It is thought that the greater the breadth of environmental conditions across which a species can maintain fitness, the greater the likelihood of being invasive. A major way that plants achieve this kind of niche breadth is by means of adaptive phenotypic plasticity. Phenotypic plasticity is the capacity of a given genotype to express different phenotypes under different environmental conditions. Adaptive plasticity may play an important role in facilitating biological invasions, and invasive species are often characterized by unusually high plasticity. At the intraspecific level, invasive populations are more plastic than those in the native range of the species and some studies predict that greater levels of environmental heterogeneity should select for enhanced phenotypic plasticity. Yet few studies have compared patterns of plasticity among distinct populations of invasive plant species. The potential to evolve adaptive plasticity depends on genetic variation for environmental response. Furthermore, if genetic variation for plasticity (termed genotype x environment interaction, or G x E) exists in introduced populations, and genotypes with more plasticity have a fitness advantage in the new environmental range, this will lead to evolution of increased plasticity. The goal of this project is to understand the potential of introduced plant species to rapidly evolve adaptive plasticity in response to novel environmental conditions, and how evolutionary potential may contribute to invasiveness of new habitats. In a broader sense, the ultimate goal is to expand the knowledge on plant adaptation to rapid environmental change.
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