The role of natural selection and adaptation versus phenotypic plasticity in the invasive success of Hieracium lepidulum in New Zealand
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Hieracium lepidulum is an invasive weed in New Zealand. It colonises a wide range of habitats including pine plantations, scrubland, native Nothofagus forest, and mid-altitude to alpine tussock grassland, where it is competing with indigenous species. Understanding the breeding systems and population genetic structure of H. lepidulum is important for biocontrol, and aids in the understanding of evolutionary colonisation processes. H. lepidulum is a triploid, diplosporous, obligate apomict. This type of reproduction through clonal seed does not involve meiosis or fertilisation, and theoretically populations should contain very low levels of genetic variation, the only source being somatic mutation. Common garden experiments and microsatellite markers were used to determine the population genetic structure of H. lepidulum populations in the Craigieburn Range, Canterbury. Both experiments revealed that populations, sampled from three replicate altitudes within three geographically-separated locations, contained no genetic variation; individuals all possessed the same microsatellite genotype. These results strongly suggest that the Craigieburn Range H. lepidulum individuals reproduce solely by apomixis and populations belong to the same clonal lineage. Populations were also examined for their response to two abiotic environmental ‘stresses’, drought and shade. H. lepidulum populations’ exhibited high drought tolerance, yet appeared to be shade-intolerant. Low levels of reproduction in light-limiting habitats will prevent the invasion of H. lepidulum into closed-canopy forest habitats. H. lepidulum appears to have overcome the reduction in fitness associated with apomictic reproduction by phenotypic plasticity, fixed heterozygosity and polyploidy – all associated with increased vigour, fitness, and the ability to occupy broader ecological niches. This study’s results are hopeful for the development of biocontrol programs involving genotype-specific pathogens but suggest that grazing management may not succeed. The data will be useful for future comparisons of genetic structure during the course of H. lepidulum invasions and will contribute to the management of this invasive weed.