Adaptive phenotypic plasticity and competitive ability deployed under a climate change scenario may promote the invasion of Poa annua in Antarctica.
Antarctica is one of the less prone environments for plant invasions, nevertheless a growing number of non-native species have been registered in the last decades with negative effects on native flora. Here we assessed adaptive phenotypic plasticity in three photoprotective traits (non-photochemical quenching, total soluble sugars, and de-epoxidation state of xanthophylls cycle), and fitness-related traits (maximum quantum yield, photosynthetic rate and total biomass) in the invasive species Poa annua and Deschampsia antarctica under current conditions of water availability and those projected by climate change models. In addition, two manipulative experiments in controlled and field conditions were conducted to evaluate the competitive ability and survival of both species under current and climate change conditions. Moreover, we performed an experiment with different water availabilities to assess cell damage as a potential mechanism involved in the competitive ability deployed in both species. Finally, was assessed the plasticity and biomass of both species subject to factorial abiotic scenarios (water × temperature, and water × nutrients) ranging from current to climate change condition. Overall, results showed that P. annua had greater phenotypic plasticity in photoprotective strategies, higher performance, and greater competitive ability and survival than D. antarctica under current and climate change conditions. Also, cell damage, assessed by lipid peroxidation, was significantly greater in D. antarctica when grown in presence of P. annua compared when grown alone. Finally, P. annua showed a greater plasticity and biomass than D. antarctica under the factorial abiotic scenarios, being more evident under a climate change scenario (i.e., higher soil moisture). Our study suggests that the high adaptive plasticity and competitive ability deployed by P. annua under current and climate change conditions allows it to cope with harsh abiotic conditions and could help explain its successful invasion in the Antarctica.