Plasticity and selection drive hump-shaped latitudinal patterns of flowering phenology in an invasive intertidal plant.
Patterns of flowering phenology can affect the success of plant invasions, especially when introduced species spread across a wide range of latitude into different climatic conditions. We combined a 4-yr field survey and a 3-yr common garden experiment with the invasive grass Spartina alterniflora that is now widespread along the coast of China to document the latitudinal pattern of flowering phenology, determine if phenology was related to climate or oceanographic variables, and determine whether phenology patterns were fixed versus plastic. In the field, first flowering day displayed a hump-shaped relationship with latitude, with low- and high-latitude plants flowering 100 d and 10 d earlier than plants at middle latitudes, respectively. Peak flowering day showed a similar hump-shaped relationship with latitude, with the interval between first and peak flowering day decreasing with increasing latitude. First flowering day had a hump-shaped relationship with annual growing degree days but a linear positive relationship with tidal range. In the common garden, first flowering day decreased linearly with increasing latitude of origin, as did peak flowering day, and the interval between first and peak flowering day increased with increasing latitude. First flowering day in the common garden had weak or no relationships with abiotic variables at the sites of origin. In both the field and common garden, first flowering day was later in site years for which plants were taller. These results indicate a high degree of plasticity in flowering phenology, with plants flowering later in the field at sites with intermediate temperatures and high tide ranges. Common garden results indicate some selection for earlier flowering at sites with low temperatures, consistent with a shorter growing season. Consistent with life-history theory, plants flowered later under conditions favoring vigorous growth. Earlier flowering and smaller size of plants at high and low latitudes suggests that S. alterniflora has already occupied much of the geographic range favorable for it on the East Coast of Asia.