Patterns of genetic diversity reveal multiple introductions and recurrent founder effects during range expansion in invasive populations of Geranium carolinianum (Geraniaceae).
Genetic diversity, and thus the adaptive potential of invasive populations, is largely based on three factors: patterns of genetic diversity in the species' native range, the number and location of introductions and the number of founding individuals per introduction. Specifically, reductions in genetic diversity ('founder effects') should be stronger for species with low within-population diversity in their native range and few introductions of few individuals to the invasive range. We test these predictions with Geranium carolinianum, a winter annual herb native to North America and invasive in China. We measure the extent of founder effects using allozymes and microsatellites, and ask whether this is consistent with its colonization history and patterns of diversity in the native range. In the native range, genetic diversity is higher and structure is lower than expected based on life history traits. In China, our results provide evidence for multiple introductions near Nanjing, Jiangsu province, with subsequent range expansion to the west and south. Patterns of genetic diversity across China reveal weak founder effects that are driven largely by low-diversity populations at the expansion front, away from the introduction location. This suggests that reduced diversity in China has resulted from successive founder events during range expansion, and that the loss of genetic diversity in the Nanjing area was mitigated by multiple introductions from diverse source populations. This has implications for the future of G. carolinianum in China, as continued gene flow among populations should eventually increase genetic diversity within the more recently founded populations.