The devil is in the details: Genetic variation in introduced populations and its contributions to invasion

Katrina M. Dlugosch, Samantha R. Anderson, Joseph Braasch, F. Alice Cang, Heather D. Gillette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

227 Scopus citations


The influence of genetic variation on invasion success has captivated researchers since the start of the field of invasion genetics 50 years ago. We review the history of work on this question and conclude that genetic variation - as surveyed with molecular markers - appears to shape invasion rarely. Instead, there is a significant disconnect between marker assays and ecologically relevant genetic variation in introductions. We argue that the potential for adaptation to facilitate invasion will be shaped by the details of genotypes affecting phenotypes, and we highlight three areas in which we see opportunities to make powerful new insights. (i) The genetic architecture of adaptive variation. Traits shaped by large-effect alleles may be strongly impacted by founder events yet more likely to respond to selection when genetic drift is strong. Large-effect loci may be especially relevant for traits involved in biotic interactions. (ii) Cryptic genetic variation exposed during invasion. Introductions have strong potential to uncover masked variation due to alterations in genetic and ecological environments. (iii) Genetic interactions during admixture of multiple source populations. As divergence among sources increases, positive followed by increasingly negative effects of admixture should be expected. Although generally hypothesized to be beneficial during invasion, admixture is most often reported among sources of intermediate divergence, supporting the possibility that incompatibilities among divergent source populations might be limiting their introgression. Finally, we note that these details of invasion genetics can be coupled with comparative demographic analyses to link genetic changes to the evolution of invasiveness itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2095-2111
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • admixture
  • colonization
  • cryptic variation
  • genetic architecture
  • genetic bottlenecks
  • invasive species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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