Genetic variation explains changes in susceptibility in a naïve host against an invasive forest pathogen: the case of alder and the Phytophthora alni complex.
Predicting whether naïve tree populations have the potential to adapt to exotic pathogens is necessary owing to the increasing rate of invasions. Adaptation may occur as a result of natural selection when heritable variation in terms of susceptibility exists in the naïve population. We searched for signs of selection on black alder (Alnus glutinosa) stands growing on riverbanks invaded by two pathogens differing in aggressiveness, namely, Phytophthora uniformis (PU) and Phytophthora × alni (PA). We compared the survival and heritability measures from 72 families originating from six invaded and uninvaded (naïve) sites by performing in vitro inoculations. The results from the inoculations were used to assess the relative contribution of host genetic variation on natural selection. We found putative signs of natural selection on alder exerted by PU but not by PA. For PU, we found a higher survival in families originating from invaded sites compared with uninvaded sites. The narrow sense heritability of susceptibility to PU of uninvaded populations was significantly higher than to PA. Simulated data supported the role of heritable genetic variation on natural selection and discarded a high aggressiveness of PA decreasing the transmission rate as an alternative hypothesis for a slow natural selection. Our findings expand on previous attempts of using heritability as a predictor for the likelihood of natural adaptation of naïve tree populations to invasive pathogens. Measures of genetic variation can be useful for risk assessment purposes or when managing Phytophthora invasions.