|Evolution of Invasive Species
We currently have three active projects on invasive species.
Fallopia japonica (Japanese Knotweed) and Fallopia sachalinensis (Giant Knotweed) are two east-Asian plant species that have invaded or become naturalized in most of the United States. Their hybrid, Fallopia X bohemica, has been characterized morphologically in Europe and the U.S., and appears to share invasive tendencies with F. japonica. The prevalence and reproductive ecology of F. X bohemica in the U.S. have not been well studied, but could offer insight into the role of hybridization in the spread of these taxa. We have attempted to identify hybrids in Massachusetts and Connecticut, based on published criteria, and found these herbarium-based characteristics to be contradictory in many cases. This supports the idea that there is greater sexual reproduction and genetic diversity in the U.S. than has been previously accepted. A comparative pollen viability test and greenhouse crosses show F. X bohemica and F. japonica have equivalent pollen viability, and that F. X bohemica has the ability to contribute sexually to the Fallopia spp. swarm. In addition, preliminary research demonstrates that multiple genotypes of F. japonica exist in New England, emphasizing that genetic markers are likely to be the only true determinate of hybridization in the U.S.
Lepidium latifolium (perennial pepperweed) is an herbaceous perennial, native to Europe and western Asia that is now well-established at many locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. This species is considered a major invasive species in the western United States and appears likely to become invasive in the east if left unchecked. We have shown that the distribution is greater than previously documented in New England and that populations appear to be expanding. Individuals of the species can produce thousands of seeds and these seeds are tolerant to many days of inundation by salt water so that dispersal by tidal and river currents is likely. In addition, populations can expand at least 2 m/yr from growth by rhizomes and densities exceeded 50 shoots/m2 in some areas. We identified 17 species of plants that are likely impacted by the expanding populations and 23 families of arthropods associated with L. latifolium in some of these areas (http://gallery.cs.umb.edu/gallery/LelaInsects). In wetland habitats, repeated pulling of shoots to remove much of the rhizome was effective at stabilizing or eradicating whole, well defined populations. This treatment was most effective if continued for two or more growing seasons.
Genetic Bases of Invasiveness in species of the Compositae or Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)
United Nations data indicate that food and non-food Compositae are grown on over 21 million ha of land per year worldwide. In addition to the economic impact of these beneficial species, Composite species are among the most well known weeds and invasive species, the control of which costs $25 billion (Pimentel et al. 1999) to $130 billion (Pennisi 2003) annually in the U.S. alone. The problem of invasive species is a dynamic one as new species are continually “breaking out” and becoming a nuisance and Composites often head the list. For example, 36 of 181 species on a recently compiled warning list of new potentially invasive American species in Europe are Composites. The two key genera of our current studies are particularly interesting, and complimentary, with regard to their histories of domestication and evolution of invasiveness. Sunflower was domesticated in North America yet today, H. annuus and 21 other taxa in the genus Helianthus are considered naturalized or invasive in Europe (Rehorek, 1997; Forman and Kesseli unpublished). Lettuce was domesticated in the Mediterranean region yet today L. serriola (the progenitor of cultivated lettuce) and 22 other taxa of Lactuca are currently defined as weeds in the U.S. The third major target species of our genomics work, Safflower, is also from the Mediterranean and is closely related to many invaders ( e.g. Knapweeds and Thistles) of natural and agricultural habitiats. Many of these species and other Composites are already serious problems and others will become so in the future (Forman and Kesseli unpublished).