Climate may keep beautiful killer plant in check

Feb 26, 2010

purple loosestrife - has been heading north since it was first introduced from Europe to the eastern seaboard 150 years ago. This exotic invader chokes out native species and has dramatically altered wetland habitats in North America. But it turns out it may have a vulnerability after all: the northern climate. Canadian scientists have found that adapting to the Great White North carries a severe reproductive penalty that may limit its spread.

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) destroys wildlife habitats by displacing native vegetation that provides food, shelter, and breeding areas for wildlife. In urban areas, it invades ditches where it can block or disrupt water flow. It has few pests and diseases, resists various control methods, and plants can produce as many as 3 million seeds a year.

But as this invasive plant has spread north it has run into challenges posed by a shorter , according to a study conducted by Robert Colautti, who recently obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Ecology. The results are published online this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, series B (https://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/firstcit) and featured in Nature (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7284/full/4631002e.html).

The authors used modeling and experimental studies of 20 purple loosestrife populations along a 1200 km latitudinal gradient from Maryland to Timmins, Ontario, representing a one-month difference in growing season. They found that northern populations have become locally adapted and flower earlier in response to a shorter growing season. However, early suffer a cost in terms of smaller size and reduced seed production. The reason: a genetic constraint.

"Genes that cause early flowering also reduce plant size, so early flowering and small size evolve together," says Colautti. "Smaller size results in lower seed production, which is likely to limit the spread of purple loosestrife in northern regions."

Explore further: Fewer students study botany, more plant collections closing

Related Stories

Discovery May Speed Tree Breeding, Biotechnology

May 31, 2006

Researchers have discovered the genetic controls that cause trees to stop growing and go dormant in the fall, as well as the mechanism that causes them to begin flowering and produce seeds – a major step forward in understanding ...

Life on the edge: To disperse, or become extinct?

Jun 23, 2008

Plants existing at the edges of their natural habitats may enhance survival of the species during global warming, says Queen's prof The hardiest plants and those most likely to survive the climatic shifts bro ...

Recommended for you

Birds time breeding to hit 'peak caterpillar'

7 hours ago

When oaks burst into life in spring populations of oak-leaf-eating caterpillars boom: this offers a food bonanza for caterpillar-munching birds looking to raise a family.

11 new species come to light in Madagascar

13 hours ago

Madagascar is home to extraordinary biodiversity, but in the past few decades, the island's forests and associated biodiversity have been under greater attack than ever. Rapid deforestation is affecting the ...

Birds 'weigh' peanuts and choose heavier ones

May 23, 2015

Many animals feed on seeds, acorns or nuts. The common feature of these are that they have shells and there is no direct way to know what's inside. How do the animals know how much and what quality of food ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.