Differential invasion success in aquatic invasive species: the role of within- and among-population genetic diversity

Kyle W. Wellband, University of Windsor
Harri Pettitt-Wade, University of Windsor
Aaron T. Fisk, University of Windsor
Daniel D. Heath, University of Windsor


Despite a well-developed theoretical basis for the role of genetic diversity in the colonization process, contemporary investigations of genetic diversity in biological invasions have downplayed its importance. Observed reductions in genetic diversity have been argued to have a limited effect on the success of establishment and impact based on empirical studies; however, those studies rarely include assessment of failed or comparatively less-successful biological invasions. We address this gap by comparing genetic diversity at microsatellite loci for taxonomically and geographically paired aquatic invasive species. Our four species pairs contain one highly successful and one less-successful invasive species (Gobies: Neogobius melanostomus, Proterorhinus semilunaris; waterfleas: Bythotrephes longimanus, Cercopagis pengoi; oysters: Crassostrea gigas, Crassostrea virginica; tunicates: Bortylloides violaceous, Botryllus schlosseri). We genotyped 2717 individuals across all species from multiple locations in multiple years and explicitly test whether genetic diversity is lower for less-successful biological invaders within each species pair. We demonstrate that, for gobies and tunicates, reduced allelic diversity is associated with lower success of invasion. We also found that lesssuccessful invasive species tend to have greater divergence among populations. This suggests that intraspecific hybridization may be acting to convert among-population variation to within-population variation for highly successful invasive species and buffering any loss of diversity. While our findings highlight the species-specific nature of the effects of genetic diversity on invasion success, they do support the use of genetic diversity information in the management of current species invasions and in the risk assessment of potential future invaders.