Latitudinal pattern of flowering synchrony in an invasive wind-pollinated plant.
Flowering synchrony can play an important role in plants' reproductive success, which is essential for the successful establishment and spread of invasive plants. Although flowering synchrony has been found to be closely related to climatic factors, the effects of variation in such factors along latitudinal gradient on flowering synchrony and the role of flowering synchrony in the reproductive success of invading populations remain largely unexplored. In a 2-year field study, we examined the latitudinal variation of flowering phenology, especially flowering synchrony, in an invasive plant, Spartina alterniflora, along coastal China, and its relationship with population seed set across three climatic zones. We found that first flowering date was delayed, and flowering synchrony increased with increasing latitude. Flowering synchrony was negatively related to temperature during flowering season but not to soil properties or precipitation, suggesting that climate has shaped the latitudinal pattern of flowering synchrony. Moreover, a positive correlation between flowering synchrony and seed set across latitudes indicates the possible role of flowering synchrony in the latitudinal pattern of sexual reproduction in S. alterniflora. These results suggest that, in addition to the effects of climate on the growth of invasive species, climatic factors can play an important role in the invasion success of alien plants by regulating the flowering synchrony and thus the reproductive success of invasive plants.