Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Epigenetics and the success of invasive plants.

Abstract

Biological invasions impose ecological and economic problems on a global scale, but also provide extraordinary opportunities for studying contemporary evolution. It is critical to understand the evolutionary processes that underly invasion success in order to successfully manage existing invaders, and to prevent future invasions. As successful invasive species sometimes are suspected to rapidly adjust to their new environments in spite of very low genetic diversity, we are obliged to re-evaluate genomic-level processes that translate into phenotypic diversity. In this paper, we review work that supports the idea that trait variation, within and among invasive populations, can be created through epigenetic or other non-genetic processes, particularly in clonal invaders where somatic changes can persist indefinitely. We consider several processes that have been implicated as adaptive in invasion success, focusing on various forms of 'genomic shock' resulting from exposure to environmental stress, hybridization and whole-genome duplication (polyploidy), and leading to various patterns of gene expression re-programming and epigenetic changes that contribute to phenotypic variation or even novelty. These mechanisms can contribute to transgressive phenotypes, including hybrid vigour and novel traits, and may thus help to understand the huge successes of some plant invaders, especially those that are genetically impoverished.