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Evolution. 2006 Jan;60(1):56-63.

Evolutionary responses of native plants to novel community members.

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Center for Population Biology, University of California-Davis, California 95616, USA.


Both ecological and evolutionary processes can influence community assembly and stability, and native community members may respond both ecologically and evolutionarily as additional species enter established communities. Biological invasions provide a unique opportunity to examine these responses of native community members to novel species additions. Here, I use reciprocal transplant experiments among naturally invaded and uninvaded environments, along with experimental removals of exotic species, to determine whether exotic plant competitors and exotic insect herbivores evoke evolutionary changes in native plants. Specifically, I address whether the common native plant species Lotus wrangelianus has responded evolutionarily to a series of biological invasions by adapting to the presence of the exotic plant Medicago polymorpha and the exotic insect herbivore Hypera brunneipennis. Despite differences in selection regimes between invaded and uninvaded environments and the presence of genetic variation for traits relevant to the novel competitive and plant-herbivore interactions, these experiments failed to reveal evidence that Lotus has responded evolutionarily to the double invasion of Medicago followed by H. brunneipennis. However, when herbivory from H. brunneipennis was experimentally reduced, Lotus plants from source populations invaded by Medicago outperformed plants from uninvaded source populations when transplanted into heavily invaded destination environments. Therefore, Lotus showed evidence of adaptation to Medicago invasion but not to the newer invasion of an exotic shared herbivore. The presence of this exotic insect herbivore alters the outcome of evolutionary responses in this system and counteracts adaptation by the native Lotus to invasion by the exotic plant Medicago. This result has broad implications for the conservation of native communities. While native species may be able to adapt to the presence of one or a few exotics, a multitude of invasions may limit the ability of natives to respond evolutionarily to the novel and frequently changing selection pressures that arise with subsequent invasions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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