Alkaloid concentration of the invasive plant species Ulex europaeus in relation to geographic origin and herbivory.
In the study of plant defense evolution, invasive plant species can be very insightful because they are often introduced without their enemies, and traits linked to defense can be released from selective pressures and evolve. Further, studying plant defense evolution in invasive species is important for biological control and use of these species. In this study, we investigated the evolution of the defensive chemicals quinolizidine alkaloids (QAs) in the invasive species gorse, Ulex europaeus. Using a common garden experiment, our goals were to characterize the role of QAs relative to specialist enemies of gorse and to investigate if QA concentration evolved in invaded regions, where gorse was introduced without these enemies. Our results showed that pod infestation rate by the seed predator Exapion ulicis and infestation by the rust pathogen Uromyces genistae-tinctoriae were negatively correlated to concentration of the QA lupanine. Quinolizidine alkaloid concentration was very variable between individuals, both within and among populations, but it was not different between native and invaded regions, suggesting that no evolution of decreased resistance occurred after gorse lost its enemies. Our study also suggests that QA concentrations are traits integrated into seed predation avoidance strategies of gorse, with plants that mass-fruit in spring but do not escape pod infestation in time being richer in QAs.