Jack of all Trades, Master of Some? On the Role of Phenotypic Plasticity in Plant Invasions

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Adaptive evolution, adaptive phenotypic plasticity, ecological genetics, experimental design, fitness homeostasis, general-purpose genotype, genetic assimilation, genotype-environment interaction, invasiveness, molecular markers

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Invasion biologists often suggest that phenotypic plasticity plays an important role in successful plant invasions. Assuming that plasticity enhances ecological niche breadth and therefore confers a fitness advantage, recent studies have posed two main hypotheses: (1) invasive species are more plastic than non-invasive or native ones; (2) populations in the introduced range of an invasive species have evolved greater plasticity than populations in the native range. These two hypotheses largely reflect the disparate interests of ecologists and evolutionary biologists. Because these sciences are typically interested in different temporal and spatial scales, we describe what is required to assess phenotypic plasticity at different levels. We explore the inevitable tradeoffs of experiments conducted at the genotype vs. species level, outline components of experimental design required to identify plasticity at different levels, and review some examples from the recent literature. Moreover, we suggest that a successful invader may benefit from plasticity as either (1) a Jack-of-all-trades, better able to maintain fitness in unfavourable environments; (2) a Master-of-some, better able to increase fitness in favourable environments; or (3) a Jack-and-master that combines some level of both abilities. This new framework can be applied when testing both ecological or evolutionary oriented hypotheses, and therefore promises to bridge the gap between the two perspectives.

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Ecology Letters, v. 9, issue 8, p. 981-993