Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Evidence for continent-wide convergent evolution and stasis throughout 150 y of a biological invasion.

Abstract

The extent to which evolution can rescue a species from extinction, or facilitate range expansion, depends critically on the rate, duration, and geographical extent of the evolutionary response to natural selection. Adaptive evolution can occur quickly, but the duration and geographical extent of contemporary evolution in natural systems remain poorly studied. This is particularly true for species with large geographical ranges and for timescales that lie between "long-term" field experiments and the fossil record. Here, we introduce the Virtual Common Garden (VCG) to investigate phenotypic evolution in natural history collections while controlling for phenotypic plasticity in response to local growing conditions. Reconstructing 150 y of evolution in Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife) as it invaded North America, we analyze phenology measurements of 3,429 herbarium records, reconstruct growing conditions from more than 12 million local temperature records, and validate predictions across three common gardens spanning 10° of latitude. We find that phenological clines have evolved repeatedly throughout the range, during the first century of evolution. Thereafter, the rate of microevolution stalls, recapitulating macroevolutionary stasis observed in the fossil record. Our study demonstrates that preserved specimens are a critical resource for investigating limits to evolution in natural populations. Our results show how natural selection and trade-offs measured in field studies predict adaptive divergence observable in herbarium specimens over 15 decades at a continental scale.