Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Epigenetic patterns associated with an ascidian invasion: a comparison of closely related clades in their native and introduced ranges.

Abstract

Environmentally induced epigenetic modifications have been proposed as one mechanism underlying rapid adaptive evolution of invasive species. Didemnum vexillum is an invasive colonial ascidian that has established in many coastal waters worldwide. Phylogenetic analyses have revealed that D. vexillum populations consist of two distinct clades; clade B appears to be restricted to the native range (Japan), whereas clade A is found in many regions throughout the world, including New Zealand. The spread of D. vexillum clade A suggests that it might be intrinsically more invasive than clade B, despite low levels of genetic diversity compared to populations from the native region. This study investigated whether D. vexillum clade A exhibits epigenetic signatures (specifically differences in DNA methylation) associated with invasiveness. Global DNA methylation patterns were significantly different between introduced clade A colonies, and both clades A and B in the native range. Introduced colonies also showed a significant reduction in DNA methylation levels, which could be a mechanism for increasing phenotypic plasticity. High levels of DNA methylation diversity were maintained in the introduced population, despite reduced levels of genetic diversity, which may allow invasive populations to respond quickly to changes in new environments. Epigenetic changes induced during the invasion process could provide a means for rapid adaptation despite low levels of genetic variation in introduced populations.