in PLOS ONE, 7 (10), PLOS, October 31, 2012:
Global change is predicted to promote plant invasions world-wide, reducing biodiversity and ecosystem function. Phenotypic plasticity may influence the ability of introduced plant species to invade and dominate extant communities. However, interpreting differences in plasticity can be confounded by phylogenetic differences in morphology and physiology. Here we present a novel case investigating the role of fitness trait values and phenotypic plasticity to global change factors between conspecific lineages of Phragmites australis. We hypothesized that due to observed differences in the competitive success of North American-native and Eurasian-introduced P. australis genotypes, Eurasian-introduced P. australis would exhibit greater fitness in response to global change factors. Plasticity and plant performance to ambient and predicted levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen pollution were investigated to understand how invasion pressure may change in North America under a realistic global change scenario. We found that the introduced Eurasian genotype expressed greater mean trait values in nearly every ecophysiological trait measured – aboveground and belowground – to elevated CO2 and nitrogen, outperforming the native North American conspecific by a factor of two to three under every global change scenario. This response is consistent with “jack and master” phenotypic plasticity. We suggest that differences in plant nitrogen productivity, specific leaf area, belowground biomass allocation, and inherently higher relative growth rate are the plant traits that may enhance invasion of Eurasian Phragmites in North America. Given the high degree of genotypic variability within this species, and our limited number of genotypes, our results must be interpreted cautiously. Our study is the first to demonstrate the potential importance of jack-and-master phenotypic plasticity in plant invasions when facing imminent global change conditions. We suggest that jack-and-master invasive genotypes and/or species similar to introduced P. australis will have an increased ecological fitness, facilitating their invasion in both stressful and resource rich environments.