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Evidence for rapid evolutionary change in an invasive plant in response to biological control

Stastny, M., Sargent, R. D.
Journal of evolutionary biology 2017 v.30 no.5 pp. 1042-1052
Coleoptera, Lythrum salicaria, biological control, biological control agents, branches, correlation, defoliation, genotype, greenhouse experimentation, herbivores, imagos, invasive species, larvae, plants (botany), vigor, Canada
We present evidence that populations of an invasive plant species that have become re‐associated with a specialist herbivore in the exotic range through biological control have rapidly evolved increased antiherbivore defences compared to populations not exposed to biocontrol. We grew half‐sib families of the invasive plant Lythrum salicaria sourced from 17 populations near Ottawa, Canada, that differed in their history of exposure to a biocontrol agent, the specialist beetle Neogalerucella calmariensis. In a glasshouse experiment, we manipulated larval and adult herbivory to examine whether a population's history of biocontrol influenced plant defence and growth. Plants sourced from populations with a history of biocontrol suffered lower defoliation than naïve, previously unexposed populations, strongly suggesting they had evolved higher resistance. Plants from biocontrol‐exposed populations were also larger and produced more branches in response to herbivory, regrew faster even in the absence of herbivory and were better at compensating for the impacts of herbivory on growth (i.e. they exhibited increased tolerance). Furthermore, resistance and tolerance were positively correlated among genotypes with a history of biocontrol but not among naïve genotypes. Our findings suggest that biocontrol can rapidly select for increased defences in an invasive plant and may favour a mixed defence strategy of resistance and tolerance without an obvious cost to plant vigour. Although rarely studied, such evolutionary responses in the target species have important implications for the long‐term efficacy of biocontrol programmes.