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A test of Darwin's naturalization hypothesis in the thistle tribe shows that close relatives make bad neighbors


Invasive species have great ecological and economic impacts and are difficult to control once established, making the ability to understand and predict invasive behavior highly desirable. Preemptive measures to prevent potential invasive species from reaching new habitats are the most economically and environmentally efficient form of management. Darwin's naturalization hypothesis predicts that invaders less related to native flora are more likely to be successful than those that are closely related to natives. Here we test this hypothesis, using the weed-rich thistle tribe, Cardueae, in the California Floristic Province, a biodiversity hotspot, as our study system. An exhaustive molecular phylogenetic approach was used, generating and examining more than 100,000 likely phylogenies of the tribe based on nuclear and chloroplast DNA markers, representing the most in-depth reconstruction of the clade to date. Branch lengths separating invasive and noninvasive introduced taxa from native California taxa were used to represent phylogenetic distances between these groups and were compared at multiple biogeographical scales to ascertain whether invasive thistles are more or less closely related to natives than noninvasive introduced thistles are. Patterns within this highly supported clade show that not only are introduced thistles more closely related to natives more likely to be invasive, but these invasive species are also evolutionarily closer to native flora than by chance. This suggests that preadaptive traits are important in determining an invader's success. Such rigorous molecular phylogenetic analyses may prove a fruitful means for furthering our understanding of biological invasions and developing predictive frameworks for screening potential invasive taxa.

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