High genetic diversity in the clonal aquatic weed Alternanthera philoxeroides in the United States.
The distribution of genetic diversity in invasive plant populations can have important management implications. Alligatorweed [Alternanthera philoxeroides (Mart.) Griseb.] was introduced into the United States around 1900 and has since spread throughout much of the southern United States and California. A successful biological control program was initiated in the late 1960s that reduced A. philoxeroides in the southern United States, although control has varied geographically. The degree to which variation among genotypes may be responsible for variation in control efficacy has not been well studied due to a lack of genetic data. We sampled 373 plants from 90 sites across the United States and genotyped all samples at three chloroplast regions to help inform future management efforts. Consistent with clonal spread, there was high differentiation between sites, yet we found six haplotypes and high haplotype diversity (mean h = 0.48) across states, suggesting this plant has been introduced multiple times. Two of the haplotypes correspond to previously described biotypes that differ in their susceptibility to herbicides and herbivory. The geographic distribution of the three common haplotypes varied by latitude and longitude, while the other haplotypes were widespread or localized to one or a few sites. All the haplotypes we screened are hexaploid (6n = 102), which may enhance biological control. Future studies can use these genetic data to determine whether genotypes differ in their invasiveness or respond differently to control measures. Some states, for instance, have mainly a single haplotype that may respond more uniformly to a single control strategy, whereas other states may require a variety of control strategies. These data will also provide the basis for identifying the source regions in South America, which may lead to the discovery of new biological control agents more closely matched to particular genotypes.