Both phenotypic plasticity and locally adapted ecotypes may contribute to the success of invasive species in a wide range of habitats. Here, we conducted common garden experiments and molecular marker analysis to test the two alternative hypotheses in invasive alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides), which colonizes both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Ninety individuals from three pairs of aquatic versus terrestrial populations across southern China were analyzed, using inter simple sequence repeat (ISSR) marker, to examine population differentiation in neutral loci. Two common gardens simulating aquatic and terrestrial habitats were set up to examine population differentiation in quantitative traits. We found no evidence of population differentiation in both neutral loci and quantitative traits. Most individuals shared the same ISSR genotype. Meanwhile, plants from different habitats showed similar reaction norms across the two common gardens. In particular, plants allocated much more biomass to the belowground roots in the terrestrial environment, where alligator weed may lose part or all of the aboveground shoots because of periodical or accidental disturbances, than those in the aquatic environment. The combined evidence from molecular marker analysis and common garden experiments support the plasticity hypothesis rather than the ecotype hypothesis in explaining the adaptation of alligator weed in a wide range of habitats.
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