Ecol Evol 2015 Mar 19;5(6):1169-77. Epub 2015 Feb 19.
State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol, School of Life Sciences, Sun Yat-Sen (Zhongshan) University Guangzhou, 510006, China.
Invasion ecologists have often found that exotic invaders evolve to be more plastic than conspecific populations from their native range. However, an open question is why some exotic invaders can even evolve to be more plastic given that there may be costs to being plastic. Investigation into the benefits and costs of plasticity suggests that stress may constrain the expression of plasticity (thereby reducing the benefits of plasticity) and exacerbate the costs of plasticity (although this possibility might not be generally applicable). Therefore, evolution of adaptive plasticity is more likely to be constrained in stressful environments. Upon introduction to a new range, exotic species may experience more favorable growth conditions (e.g., because of release from natural enemies). Therefore, we hypothesize that any factors mitigating stress in the introduced range may promote exotic invaders to evolve increased adaptive plasticity by reducing the costs and increasing the benefits of plasticity. Empirical evidence is largely consistent with this hypothesis. This hypothesis contributes to our understanding of why invasive species are often found to be more competitive in a subset of environments. Tests of this hypothesis may not only help us understand what caused increased plasticity in some exotic invaders, but could also tell us if costs (unless very small) are more likely to inhibit the evolution of adaptive plasticity in stressful environments in general.