Invasion fosters change: independent evolutionary shifts in reproductive traits after Oxalis pes-caprae L. introduction.
Biological invasions offer optimal scenarios to study evolutionary changes under contemporary timescales. After long-distance dispersal, exotic species have to cope with strong mate limitation, and shifts toward uniparental reproduction have been hypothesized to be selectively advantageous. Oxalis pes-caprae is a clonal tristylous species native to South Africa, and invasive in Mediterranean regions worldwide. It reproduces sexually and asexually but the importance of each strategy differs between ranges. Native populations reproduce mostly sexually while in invasive ones asexual reproduction is the prevailing strategy due to the dominance of pentaploid monomorphic populations. Nevertheless, two contrasting scenarios have been observed after introduction: transition toward clonality, and re-acquisition of sexuality fueled by multiple introductions of compatible mates. Here, we aimed to assess evolutionary changes of reproductive traits in O. pes-caprae invasive populations and evaluate whether these traits could be related with invasion success and prevalence of certain forms in the western Mediterranean basin. Sexual and asexual reproduction traits were quantified under optimal conditions in a common garden experiment including native and invasive sexual, predominately asexual, and obligated asexual individuals. Different reproductive, ecological, and genetic constraints created by long-distance dispersal seem to have generated different selective pressures in sexual and asexual traits, with our results supporting evolutionary changes in invasive populations of O. pes-caprae. Native plants had higher sexual fitness, while a transition toward clonality was clear for invasive forms, supporting clonal reproduction as a major trait driving invasion. Differences were also observed among invasive plants, with sexual forms having increased dispersal potential; thus, they are expected to be in advantage in comparison with predominantly asexual and obligated asexual plants, and may become widespread in the future. Historical processes, like the initial introduction of predominantly asexual forms followed by sexual forms more recently, could be in the origin of current distribution patterns of O. pes-caprae in the western Mediterranean. This study shows that invasion processes are very dynamic and that ecological and genetic constraints determined by the invasion process may originate different reproductive strategies that are likely to determine invasion success.