Discovery of a life history shift: precocious flowering in an introduced population of Prosopis.
The genus Prosopis contains many valuable, long-lived, multi-purpose legume trees, some of which are also invasive species. The time of first flowering is important for increasing production of sweet, protein-rich pods in plantations, especially under short rotations, and affects the rate of spread as a weed. Trees generally begin flowering at 3-5 years of age. However, seedlings from a small seedlot collected from an introduced population in southern Mauritania were observed to begin flowering at 3-4 months after germination. This is unknown in the native range of any Prosopis species, and appears to represent a major evolutionary event triggered after naturalization. This paper reports a detailed investigation with seed collected from Aleg, Brakna region, Mauritania, in 1998 (Prosopis sp. 'Aleg'). Two experiments were established, in glasshouses at Cirad, Montpellier, France, and Coventry University, UK. Flowering began at the two sites 104 and 169 days after sowing, respectively, and 97.5% of plants had flowered at Coventry after 306 days. Flowers produced abundant pollen with 50-60% viability indicated by FDA staining and 40-50% germination on an artificial medium. No pods were formed. All plants analysed were diploid. Morphologically, these juvenile plants were similar to American species of section Algarobia, and exhibited leaf characters typical of P. pallida. However, due to the large variation in morphology within this section of the genus, further studies are required to confirm the actual species. This is the first record of precocious flowering in Prosopis, and has been found only in a single, introduced population. Implications for genetic improvement of tropical Prosopis, and particularly the spread of these species as invasive weeds, are discussed. Such a life history shift in the increased reproductive ability of a species following introduction, with potentially significant environmental effects, may not be restricted to Prosopis and merits further detailed investigation.