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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The consequences of genetic diversity for invasion success in populations of dandelions Drummond, Emily Barbara McKenzie.


Genetic variation is ubiquitous in natural populations, but very little is known about the ecological consequences of this variation. Recent interest in merging ecological and evolutionary studies has illustrated the potential for heritable trait variation to influence processes at the population, community or ecosystem level. In the few studies conducted to date, increased genetic diversity has been shown to increase the productivity and resistance to disturbance of populations of focal species and to increase the stability of plant communities. The objective of this study was to provide a test of the consequences of genetic diversity for the invasion success of populations of dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) under two sets of environmental conditions. We predicted that: (1) increasing genetic diversity in the invading population will increase average invasion success via a “selection effect”, whereby diverse populations have a higher probability of being dominated by a highly competitive genotype, or a “complementarity effect”, whereby niche differentiation or facilitation among genotypes results in mixtures having greater invasion success than expected from the performance of single genotypes; and (2) the strength of the diversity effect will be strongest in the most stressful environment. Replicate populations of three different genotypic richness levels were established in both environments (a mowed lawn and a fallow field) in June 2007. Individual plants were measured every month to determine plant size (as total leaf area) and all seed heads were counted. As predicted, plot productivity (as measured by plant leaf area or number of seeds produced) increased with plot genotypic richness, and plot productivity was greatest in the fallow field (no richness-by-environment interaction). Contrary to our second prediction, the diversity effect was strongest in the least stressful environment, the fallow field, as indicated by significant overyielding of genotype mixtures in this environment only. A positive selection effect drove the overyielding in the fallow field, while the balance of complementarity and a negative selection effect mediated the small (but non-significant) net effect in the mowed lawn. In conclusion, genetic diversity within invading populations can increase the probability of successful establishment, but the strength of this effect depends on habitat context.

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