Research Summary: Native Perennial Grasses Show Evolutionary Response to Bromus tectorum (Cheatgrass) Invasion
Invasive species can change selective pressures on native plants by altering biotic and abiotic conditions in invaded habitats. Although invasions can lead to native species extirpation, they may also induce rapid evolutionary changes in remnant native plants. We investigated whether adult plants of five native perennial grasses exhibited trait shifts consistent with evolution in response to invasion by the introduced annual grass Bromus tectorum L. (cheatgrass), and asked how much variation there was among species and populations in the ability to grow successfully with the invader. Three hundred and twenty adult plants were collected from invaded and uninvaded communities from four locations near Reno, Nevada, USA. Each plant was divided in two and transplanted into the greenhouse. One clone was grown with B. tectorum while the other was grown alone, and we measured tolerance (ability to maintain size) and the ability to reduce size of B. tectorum for each plant. Plants from invaded populations consistently had earlier phenology than those from uninvaded populations, and in two out of four sites, invaded populations were more tolerant of B. tectorum competition than uninvaded populations. Poa secunda and one population of E. multisetus had the strongest suppressive effect on B. tectorum, and these two species were the only ones that flowered in competition with B. tectorum. Our study indicates that response to B. tectorum is a function of both location and species identity, with some, but not all, populations of native grasses showing trait shifts consistent with evolution in response to B. tectorum invasion within the Great Basin.