Invasion genetics of the Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae): complex intercontinental patterns of genetic diversity, polyploidy and heterostyly characterize both native and introduced populations.
Genetic diversity in populations of invasive species is influenced by a variety of factors including reproductive systems, ploidy level, stochastic forces associated with colonization and multiple introductions followed by admixture. Here, we compare genetic variation in native and introduced populations of the clonal plant Oxalis pes-caprae to investigate the influence of reproductive mode and ploidy on levels of diversity. This species is a tristylous geophyte native to South Africa. Invasive populations throughout much of the introduced range are composed of a sterile clonal pentaploid short-styled form. We examined morph ratios, ploidy level, reproductive mode and genetic diversity at nuclear microsatellite loci in 10 and 12 populations from South Africa and the Western Mediterranean region, respectively. Flow cytometry confirmed earlier reports of diploids and tetraploids in the native range, with a single population containing pentaploid individuals. Introduced populations were composed mainly of pentaploids, but sexual tetraploids were also found. There was clear genetic differentiation between ploidy levels, but sexual populations from both regions were not significantly different in levels of diversity. Invasive populations of the pentaploid exhibited dramatically reduced levels of diversity but were not genetically uniform. The occurrence of mixed ploidy levels and stylar polymorphism in the introduced range is consistent with multiple introductions to the Western Mediterranean. This inference was supported by variation patterns at microsatellite loci. Our study indicates that some invasive populations of Oxalis pes-caprae are not entirely clonal, as often assumed, and multiple introductions and recombination have the potential to increase genetic variation in the introduced range.