Higher plasticity in ecophysiological traits enhances the performance and invasion success of Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) in alpine environments
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Phenotypic plasticity has long been suggested to facilitate biological invasions in changing environments, allowing a species to maintain a good ecophysiological performance. High-mountain habitats have been particularly useful for evaluation of the relative importance of environmental conditions in the colonization and invasion process, because they have heterogeneous and stressful climatic conditions, inducing photoinhibition. Light intensity is one of the most changing conditions along altitudinal gradients, showing more variability in higher altitudes. In this study, we analyzed the plasticity in photoprotective strategies and performance of the invasive Taraxacum officinale. Additionally, we tested whether higher plasticity enhances competitive ability in an alpine environment We conducted an experiment to evaluate plasticity with a second generation (F2) of T. officinale individuals from 1,600 to 3,600 m, in a greenhouse with variation in light intensity. Treatments consisted of transferring 120 individuals from each altitude to two conditions of light intensity. We then recorded concentrations of photoprotection pigment, de-epoxidation state of the xanthophyll cycle, foliar angles, photochemical efficiency by fluorescence of photosystem II, total dry biomass and flower production. Additionally, we compared plasticity in both photoprotective and performance traits between T. officinale and the co-occurring native species Hypochaeris thrincioides. Finally, we performed a manipulative experiment under two light regimes in order to assess the competitive outcome between the invasive T. officinale and the native H. thrincioides. Individuals from higher altitude showed significantly greater plasticity than individuals from lower altitude. Similarly, individuals under high light intensity showed higher levels of photoprotective pigments, biomass and flower production. On the other hand, the invasive plant species showed significantly greater plasticity than the co-occurring native species, and a strong negative impact on the biomass of the native plant. Phenotypic plasticity seems to be a successful strategy in T. officinale to compete with native species and may be positively associated with the success of invasions, being greater in individuals from more heterogeneous and stressful environments.
KeywordsAltitudinal gradient Competition Fluorescence Light intensity Photoprotective pigments Xanthophyll cycle
This research was supported by Spanish Government grants CGL2006-04025/BOS, CGL2010-17172, BFU2009-06045-E and Consolider-Ingenio Montes CSD2008-00040 and the Catalan Government grant SGR 2009-458. M.A.M–M. thanks the MECESUP UCO 0214 project and León A. Bravo for providing climatic data.
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