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Am Nat. 2011 Apr;177(4):496-509. doi: 10.1086/658902.

What invasive species reveal about the rate and form of contemporary phenotypic change in nature.

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  • 1Ocean Sciences Centre, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1 Marine Lab Road, St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.


Biological invasions are opportunities to gain insight into fundamental evolutionary questions, because reproductive isolation and sudden alterations in selection pressures are likely to lead to rapid evolutionary change. Here I investigate the role played by invasive species in revealing the rate and form of contemporary phenotypic change in wild populations by expanding a database of more than 5,500 rates of phenotypic change from 90 species of plants and animals. Invasive species are frequently used as model organisms and thus contribute disproportionately to available rates of phenotypic change. However, the preponderance of these rates is the consequence of extensive study in a small number of species. I found mixed evidence to support the hypothesis that phenotypic change is associated with time depending on the metric of choice (i.e., darwins or haldanes). Insights from both invasive and native species provide evidence for abrupt phenotypic change and suggest that the environment plays a potentially important role in driving trait change in wild populations, although the environmental influence on the observed trajectories remains unclear. Thus, future work should continue to seek an understanding of the mechanistic underpinnings--both genetic and environmental--of how phenotypic variation allows populations to adapt to rapidly changing global environments.

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