Rapid evolution of dispersal-related traits during range expansion of an invasive vine Mikania micrantha.
Rapid range expansion of invasive plants provides a unique opportunity to explore evolutionary changes of dispersal-related traits during the invasion process. Increasing evidence now suggests that a higher dispersal rate is favored at the invasion front. However, little is known about the role of genetic differentiation and phenotypic plasticity on patterns of dispersal ability during the invasion process. In this study, we combined a field survey and a common garden transplant experiment to test for evidence of genetically based dispersal ability in Mikania micrantha, a highly invasive vine, across its invaded range in southern China. Three dispersal-related traits, plume loading, seed mass and pappus radius, were measured in both natural and common garden populations. We found that in natural conditions, plume loading and seed mass significantly decreased with expanding distance from the source population, but in controlled conditions, these two traits exhibited a significant humped trend against percent field cover, indicating that dispersal ability of M. micrantha was selected for during range expansion and that the related traits were likely to be under genetic control. Furthermore, rebounding dispersal ability was detected in highly competitive sites in the range core, which suggested that this evolutionary process was likely partially driven by intraspecific competition. Because more and more plant species are under spatial nonequilibrium due to climate change, this study can serve to provide hints at the fate of spatially fluctuant populations.