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Resolving the genetic basis of invasiveness and predicting invasions

Weinig, Cynthia, Brock, Marcus T., Dechaine, Jenny A., Welch, Stephen M.
Genetica 2007 v.129 no.2 pp. 205-216
biologists, cold, drought, environmental factors, genes, heat tolerance, herbivores, life history, loci, models, prediction, seasonal variation
Considerable effort has been invested in determining traits underlying invasiveness. Yet, identifying a set of traits that commonly confers invasiveness in a range of species has proven elusive, and almost nothing is known about genetic loci affecting invasive success. Incorporating genetic model organisms into ecologically relevant studies is one promising avenue to begin dissecting the genetic underpinnings of invasiveness. Molecular biologists are rapidly characterizing genes mediating developmental responses to diverse environmental cues, i.e., genes for plasticity, as well as to environmental factors likely to impose strong selection on invading species, e.g., resistance to herbivores and competitors, coordination of life-history events with seasonal changes, and physiological tolerance of heat, drought, or cold. Here, we give an overview of molecular genetic tools increasingly used to characterize the genetic basis of adaptation and that may be used to begin identifying genetic mechanisms of invasiveness. Given the divergent traits that affect invasiveness, “invasiveness genes” common to many clades are unlikely, but the combination of developmental genetic advances with further evolutionary studies and modeling may provide a framework for identifying genes that account for invasiveness in related species.