Background – The role of evolution in biological invasion studies is often overlooked. In order to evaluate the evolutionary mechanisms behind invasiveness, both quantitative and population genetics studies are underway on Robinia pseudoacacia L., one of the worst invasive tree species in Europe.
Methods – A controlled experiment was set up using 2000 seeds from ten populations in Southern France and ten populations in Belgium. Seedlings were cultivated in two climatic chambers set at 18°C and 22°C. Early development life history traits (e.g. seedling phenology) and functional traits (e.g. growth rates) were monitored. Genotyping using SNP markers was used to evaluate the genetic differentiation among the populations and a QST – FST comparison was done in order to test for the role of selection.
Results – Populations exhibited a strong plasticity to temperature for all measured traits, the warmer environment being generally more suitable, irrespective of their origin. No significant departure from neutral evolution was evidenced by the QST – FST comparisons, although we found a slightly significant differentiation at the molecular level.
Conclusion – Plasticity for the functional and life history traits was evidenced but no genetic interaction suggesting no possible evolution of plasticity at those traits. Moreover, no support for genetic differentiation and local adaptation was found among studied populations within invasive range, raising two main questions: first, what is the role of selection on functional and life-history traits; and second, is the elapsed time since first introduction sufficient to allow evolution and local adaptation?
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