Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rapid evolution aids spread of exotic plant species

26.05.2014

A team of Belgian biologists led by researchers at KU Leuven has provided the first genetic evidence that rapid evolution can help non-native plant species spread in new environments. Using samples of centuries-old herbaria and DNA analysis, the researchers reconstructed the genetic adaptations undergone by the Pyrenean rocket prior to its rapid spread in Belgium.


The Pyrenean rocket (pictured) is a harmless plant, but some exotics can become a real plague even after a period of unproblematic presence in a non-native environment. | Photo © Katrien Vandepitte

The Pyrenean rocket (Sisymbrium austriacum subsp. Chrysanthum) is a plant that grows in the mountains of southern Europe and is particularly prevalent in the Pyrenees. The species was first reported in Belgium – 1,200 kilometres north of its native range – in the first half of the 19th century. 

Seeds from the plant were most likely introduced alongside the wool industry in and around Verviers. The Pyrenean rocket took root on the banks of the River Vesdre in Verviers and later spread across the Meuse basin towards the Netherlands.

The colonization history of the Pyrenean rocket is well documented, explains postdoctoral researcher and corresponding author Katrien Vandepitte (Plant Conservation and Population Biology Research Group):

“We found dried specimens of the Pyrenean rocket in herbaria from the 19th and 20th centuries and were able to isolate DNA from these samples. We then compared this DNA with the genetic profile of contemporary samples from Belgium and the Pyrenees. This gave us a unique opportunity to reconstruct when and how an exotic plant species genetically adapted to a new environment.”

20 generations

“When we looked at the genetic evolution of the Pyrenean rocket, we found the greatest divergences in a set of genes that regulate flowering time, an important plant fitness trait. When we compared current individuals taken from our region and the Pyrenees, both grown under Belgian conditions, the Belgian variant bloomed later.” 

“Our DNA analysis shows that the Belgian variant genetically adapted quite rapidly – in about 20 generations. This very likely helped the plant to survive and spread here.”

“Our findings are important because until now evidence supporting the hypothesis that exotic plants can spread after a period of rapid genetic adaptation has been very scant,” says Dr. Vandepitte.

The results also suggest that we should be wary of ‘latent’ non-native plant species. “These plants can be present in small numbers for years before spreading as a result of genetic adaptation. The Pyrenean rocket is a harmless plant, but some exotics can become a real plague. And this can occur even after a period of unproblematic presence in a non-native environment.”

The researchers’ findings were published as the cover story in the May issue of the journal Molecular Ecology.

Ilse Frederickx

Katrien Vandepitte | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Biology Conservation DNA Ecology Population Rapid century environment genes plant species spread variant

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Conservation scientists asking wrong questions on climate change impacts on wildlife
31.07.2014 | Wildlife Conservation Society

nachricht Boat noise impacts development and survival of sea hares
31.07.2014 | University of Bristol

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Counting down to FEBS-EMBO 2014 in Paris, France

29.07.2014 | Event News

9th European Wood-Based Panel Symposium 2014 – meeting point for the wood-based material branch

24.07.2014 | Event News

“Lens on Life” - Artists and Scientists Explore Cell Divison

08.07.2014 | Event News

 
Latest News

Mapping the optimal route between 2 quantum states

31.07.2014 | Physics and Astronomy

Monoamine oxidase A: biomarker for postpartum depression

31.07.2014 | Health and Medicine

Saving Seeds the Right Way Can Save the World's Plants

31.07.2014 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>