Invasive Mahonia plants outgrow their native relatives


Invasive populations often grow more vigorously than conspecific populations in the native range. This has frequently been attributed to evolutionary changes resulting either from founder effects, or from natural selection owing to enemy release. Another mechanism contributing to evolutionary change has largely been neglected in the past: Many invasive plant species do actually descend from cultivated plants and were therefore subject to breeding, including hybridisation and artificial selection. In a common garden experiment, we compared invasive Central European populations of the ornamental shrub, Mahonia, with native populations of its putative parental species, Mahonia aquifolium and M. repens, from North America. We hypothesised that plants of invasive populations show increased growth and retained high levels of heritable variation in phenotypic traits. Indeed, invasive Mahonia plants grew larger in terms of stem length, number of leaves and above-ground biomass than either of the two native species, which did not differ significantly from each other. Since there are no hints on release of invasive Mahonia populations from natural enemies, it is likely that hybridisation and subsequent selection by breeders have lead to an evolutionary increase of plant vigour in the introduced range. Further on, heritable variation was not consistently reduced in invasive populations compared with populations of the two native species. We suggest that interspecific hybridisation among the Mahonia species has counteracted the harmful effects of genetic bottlenecks often associated with species introductions. Based on this case study, we conclude that much more attention has to be paid on the role of plant breeding when assessing the mechanisms behind successful plant invasions in future.


Chlorophyll Content Specific Leaf Area Functional Trait Invasive Population Native Relative 
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