Is evolution necessary for range expansion? Manipulating reproductive timing of a weedy annual transplanted beyond its range

Am Nat. 2006 Feb;167(2):153-64. doi: 10.1086/498945. Epub 2005 Dec 14.


Ecologists often consider how environmental factors limit a species' geographic range. However, recent models suggest that geographic distribution also may be determined by a species' ability to adapt to novel environmental conditions. In this study, we empirically tested whether further evolution would be necessary for northern expansion of the weedy annual cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) in its native North American range. We transplanted seedlings beyond the northern border and photoperiodically manipulated reproductive timing, a trait important for adaptation to shorter growing seasons at higher latitudes within the range, to determine whether further evolution of this trait would result in a phenotype viable beyond the range. Earlier reproductive induction enabled plants to produce mature seeds beyond the range and to achieve a reproductive output similar to those grown within the range. Therefore, evolution of earlier reproduction in marginal populations would be necessary for northward range expansion. This study is the first to empirically show that evolution in an ecologically important trait would enable a species to survive and reproduce beyond its current range. These results suggest that relatively few traits may limit a species' range and that identifying evolutionary constraints on such traits could be important for predicting geographic distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Environment*
  • Flowers / growth & development
  • Flowers / physiology
  • Geography
  • Photoperiod
  • Reproduction
  • Xanthium / growth & development
  • Xanthium / physiology*