Functional differences in response to drought in the invasive Taraxacum officinale from native and introduced alpine habitat ranges.
Background: Phenotypic plasticity and ecotypic differentiation have been suggested as the main mechanisms by which widely distributed species can colonise broad geographic areas with variable and stressful conditions. Some invasive plant species are among the most widely distributed plants worldwide. Plasticity and local adaptation could be the mechanisms for colonising new areas. Aims: We addressed if Taraxacum officinale from native (Alps) and introduced (Andes) stock responded similarly to drought treatment, in terms of photosynthesis, foliar angle, and flowering time. We also evaluated if ontogeny affected fitness and physiological responses to drought. Methods: We carried out two common garden experiments with both seedlings and adults (F2) of T. officinale from its native and introduced ranges in order to evaluate their plasticity and ecotypic differentiation under a drought treatment. Results: Our data suggest that the functional response of T. officinale individuals from the introduced range to drought is the result of local adaptation rather than plasticity. In addition, the individuals from the native distribution range were more sensitive to drought than those from the introduced distribution ranges at both seedling and adult stages. Conclusions: These results suggest that local adaptation may be a possible mechanism underlying the successful invasion of T. officinale in high mountain environments of the Andes.