High genetic diversity with weak phylogeographic structure of the invasive Spartina alterniflora (Poaceae) in China.
Biological invasion represents a global issue of concern due to its large negative impacts on native ecosystems and society. Elucidating the evolutionary history and genetic basis underpinning invasiveness is critical to understanding how alien species invade and adapt to novel environments. Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora, 2n = 6x = 62) is a notorious invasive species that causes heavily negative effects on native ecosystems worldwide. Here we addressed the evolutionary mechanisms underlying the invasion and dispersal history of this species along the China coast in the past decades. We employed nine microsatellites and three chloroplast fragments to investigate phylogeographic structure and genetic diversity of 11 native US and 11 invasive Chinese S. alterniflora populations. Demographic history simulation was also performed for both the native and invasive populations, respectively. Comparative genetic analyses of these natural populations revealed that although all the Chinese populations were introduced only once, high level of genetic diversity with weak geographic structure was observed. In particular, both the genetic features and mathematical simulation illustrated very recent population expansion in the Chinese populations. We found that genetic variants identified in native US populations were mixed in the Chinese populations, suggesting the recombination of these original variants during the invasion process. These genetic attributes indicate that Chinese populations might not have experienced a genetic bottleneck during the invasion process. High genetic diversity and genetic admixture might have contributed to the success of invasion of S. alterniflora in China. Our study provides a framework of how the smooth cordgrass spreads along the China coast as well as its potential genetic mechanisms underlying the invasion.