Fitness-related traits are maximized in recently introduced, slow-growing populations of a global invasive clam.
Many species are shifting their ranges and being forced to rapidly respond to novel stressful environmental conditions. Colonizing individuals experience strong selective forces that favor the expression of life history traits notably affecting dispersal and reproductive rates in newly invaded habitats. Limited information is currently available on trait variation within the invasive range despite being critical for understanding ecological and evolutionary factors that drive the process of range expansion of invasive species. Here we evaluated life history shifts in the widely introduced Asian clam Corbicula cf. C. fluminea within its invaded range. Through an exhaustive literature search, we obtained data for 17 invasive populations of this clam from different ecosystems worldwide. We tested the relationship between population and individual parameters relevant to the process of range expansion. Our main results are that recently introduced populations of clams were characterized by (a) low density and low rate of population increase, (b) earlier reproduction in slow-growing populations of clams, and (c) no effect of density on population increase. All populations of the Asian clam analyzed in this study, which are fixed for one genotype (the lineage called Form A/R), experienced different selective environments in the introduced range. These findings support the perspective that adaptive phenotypic plasticity favored the expression of traits that maximize fitness in recently established populations, which faced stronger r-selective forces relative to long-established ones. We discuss the role of plasticity in facilitating rapid adaptation and in increasing the likelihood of populations to overcome difficulties associated with low densities and low population increase in newly invaded areas.