Phenotypic plasticity and genetic differentiation are two possible mechanisms that plants use to cope with varying environments. Although alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides) possesses very low genetic diversity, this alien weed has successfully invaded diverse habitats with considerably varying water availability (from swamps to dry lands) in China. In contrast, its native congener (Alternanthera sessilis) has a much narrower ecological breadth, and is usually found in moist habitats. To understand the mechanisms underlying the contrasting pattern, we performed a greenhouse experiment to compare the reaction norms of alligator weed with those of its native congener, in which water availability was manipulated. Our results revealed that the two congeners had similar direction of phenotypic plasticity. However, A. philoxeroides showed greater plasticity in amount than did A. sessilis in many traits examined during the switch from wet to drought treatment. Nearly all of the phenotypic variance in A. philoxeroides could be ascribed to plasticity, while A. sessilis had a much higher fraction of phenotypic variance that could be explained by genotypic variation. These interspecific differences in plastic responses to variable water availability partially explained the difference in spatial distribution of the two congeners. (c) 2006 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.
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