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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Genetic diversity in three invasive clonal aquatic species in New Zealand

Carla Lambertini1*, Tenna Riis1, Birgit Olesen1, John S Clayton2, Brian K Sorrell1 and Hans Brix1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Plant Biology, Aarhus University, DK-8000 Århus C, Denmark

2 National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, P.O. Box 11115, Hamilton, New Zealand

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BMC Genetics 2010, 11:52  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-11-52

Published: 18 June 2010



Elodea canadensis, Egeria densa and Lagarosiphon major are dioecious clonal species which are invasive in New Zealand and other regions. Unlike many other invasive species, the genetic variation in New Zealand is very limited. Clonal reproduction is often considered an evolutionary dead end, even though a certain amount of genetic divergence may arise due to somatic mutations. The successful growth and establishment of invasive clonal species may be explained not by adaptability but by pre-existing ecological traits that prove advantageous in the new environment. We studied the genetic diversity and population structure in the North Island of New Zealand using AFLPs and related the findings to the number of introductions and the evolution that has occurred in the introduced area.


Low levels of genetic diversity were found in all three species and appeared to be due to highly homogeneous founding gene pools. Elodea canadensis was introduced in 1868, and its populations showed more genetic structure than those of the more recently introduced of E. densa (1946) and L. major (1950). Elodea canadensis and L. major, however, had similar phylogeographic patterns, in spite of the difference in time since introduction.


The presence of a certain level of geographically correlated genetic structure in the absence of sexual reproduction, and in spite of random human dispersal of vegetative propagules, can be reasonably attributed to post-dispersal somatic mutations. Direct evidence of such evolutionary events is, however, still insufficient.