A century later: adaptive plasticity and rapid evolution contribute to geographic variation in invasive mosquitofish.
One century after their introduction to Europe, eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) represent a natural experiment to determine the relative contributions of adaptive plasticity and rapid evolutionary change in creating large-scale geographic variation in phenotypes. We evaluated the population-genetic structure and invasion history based on allele length polymorphisms of 15 nuclear microsatellites, which we quantified for N = 660 individuals from 23 populations sampled in 2013 across the invasive range of G. holbrooki in Europe. We analysed body-shape and life-history variation in N = 1331 individuals from 36 populations, sampled in 2013 and 2017, and tested heritability of phenotypic differences in a subset of four populations using a common-garden experiment. The genetic structure of wild-caught individuals suggested a single introduction for all European mosquitofish, which were genetically impoverished compared to their native counterparts. We found some convergent patterns of phenotypic divergence across native and invasive climatic gradients (e.g., increased body size in colder/more northern populations); however, several phenotypic responses were not consistent between sampling years, pointing towards plastic phenotypes. Our analysis of common-garden reared individuals uncovered moderate heritability estimates only for two measures of male body size (intraclass correlation coefficient, ICC = 0.628 and 0.556) and offspring fat content (ICC = 0.734), while suggesting high levels of plasticity in most other phenotypic traits (ICC ≤ 0.407). Our results highlight the importance of phenotypic plasticity in invasive species during range expansions and demonstrate that strong selective pressures - in this case towards increased body size in colder environments - simultaneously promote rapid evolutionary divergence.