Adaptation and colonization history affect the evolution of clines in two introduced species.
Phenotypic and genetic clines have long been synonymous with adaptive evolution. However, other processes (for example, migration, range expansion, invasion) may generate clines in traits or loci across geographical and environmental gradients. It is therefore important to distinguish between clines that represent adaptive evolution and those that result from selectively neutral demographic or genetic processes. We tested for the differentiation of phenotypic traits along environmental gradients using two species in the genus Silene, whilst statistically controlling for colonization history and founder effects. We sampled seed families from across the native and introduced ranges, genotyped individuals and estimated phenotypic differentiation in replicated common gardens. The results suggest that post-glacial expansion of S. vulgaris and S. latifolia involved both neutral and adaptive genetic differentiation (clines) of life history traits along major axes of environmental variation in Europe and North America. Phenotypic clines generally persisted when tested against the neutral expectation, although some clines disappeared (and one cline emerged) when the effects of genetic ancestry were statistically removed. Colonization history, estimated using genetic markers, is a useful null model for tests of adaptive trait divergence, especially during range expansion and invasion when selection and gene flow may not have reached equilibrium.