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Why only tetraploid Solidago gigantea (Asteraceae) became invasive: a common garden comparison of ploidy levels


Many studies have compared the growth of plants from native and invasive populations, but few have considered the role of ploidy. In its native range in North America, Solidago gigantea Aiton (Asteraceae) occurs as a diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid, with considerable habitat differentiation and geographic separation amongst these ploidy levels. In the introduced range in Europe, however, only tetraploid populations are known. We investigated the growth performance and life history characteristics of plants from 12 European and 24 North American (12 diploid, 12 tetraploid) populations in a common garden experiment involving two nutrient and two calcium treatments. Twelve plants per population were grown in pots for two seasons. We measured 24 traits related to leaf nutrients, plant size, biomass production and phenology as well as sexual and vegetative reproduction. Native diploid plants had a higher specific leaf area and higher leaf nutrient concentrations than native tetraploids, but tetraploids produced many more shoots and rhizomes. Diploids grown with additional calcium produced less biomass, whereas tetraploids were not affected. European plants were less likely to flower and produced smaller capitulescences than North American tetraploids, but biomass production and shoot and rhizome number did not differ. We conclude that a knowledge of ploidy level is essential in comparative studies of invasive and native populations. While clonal growth is important for the invasion success of tetraploid S. gigantea, its potential was not acquired by adaptation after introduction but by evolutionary processes in the native range.

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We thank Sabine Güsewell for statistical advice, Martin Fotsch for help with the experiment, Philipp Streckeisen for his efforts in the greenhouse (FAL, Reckenholz, Switzerland), Andreas Wolf for measuring leaf traits and Rose Trachsler for nutrient analyses. We also thank Jake Alexander, Daniela Eichenberger, Harry Eggenschwiler, Min Hahn, Edith Lang, Myriam Poll, Carmen Rothenbühler, Rodolphe Schlaepfer and Mila Trtiková for help during the harvest. The project is funded by the grant 0-20259-05 from the ETH Zurich, Switzerland. The experiments comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

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Correspondence to Daniel R. Schlaepfer.

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Communicated by Melinda Smith.

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Schlaepfer, D.R., Edwards, P.J. & Billeter, R. Why only tetraploid Solidago gigantea (Asteraceae) became invasive: a common garden comparison of ploidy levels. Oecologia 163, 661–673 (2010).

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  • Clonal growth
  • Invasive alien species
  • Polyploidy
  • Rhizome system
  • Vegetative reproduction