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High-performing plastic clones best explain the spread of yellow monkeyflower from lowland to higher elevation areas in New Zealand

Abstract

The relative contribution of adaptation and phenotypic plasticity can vary between core and edge populations, with implications for invasive success. We investigated the spread of the invasive yellow monkeyflower, Erythranthe gutatta in New Zealand, where it is spreading from lowland agricultural land into high-elevation conservation areas. We investigated the extent of phenotypic variation among clones from across the South Island, looked for adaptation and compared degrees of plasticity among lowland core versus montane range-edge populations. We grew 34 clones and measured their vegetative and floral traits in two common gardens, one in the core range at 9 m a.s.l. and one near the range-edge at 560 m a.s.l. Observed trait variation was explained by a combination of genotypic diversity (as identified through common gardens) and high phenotypic plasticity. We found a subtle signature of local adaptation to lowland habitats but all clones were plastic and able to survive and reproduce in both gardens. In the range-edge garden, above-ground biomass was on average almost double and stolon length almost half that of the same clone in the core garden. Clones from low-elevation sites showed higher plasticity on average than those from higher elevation sites. The highest performing clones in the core garden were also top performers in the range-edge garden. These results suggest some highly fit general-purpose genotypes, possibly pre-adapted to New Zealand montane conditions, best explains the spread of E. gutatta from lowland to higher elevation areas.

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