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Over time, an invasive plant loses its toxic edge
Date:9/1/2009

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Thanks to a study of historic herbarium records conducted by co-author Victoria Nuzzo, of Natural Area Consultants, N.Y., the researchers had access to a 140-year record of the age of garlic mustard populations across the eastern half of the U.S. The team collected garlic mustard seeds from 44 locations, grew them in a greenhouse and tested glucosinolate levels in each. Those tests found that older populations those that have been present in an area for more than 30 years produced lower levels of the fungicidal compounds than those that got their start less than two decades ago, Lankau said.

Genetic studies suggested that these patterns were the result of natural selection. That is, the plants that produced less of the toxin were more likely to survive and reproduce in older populations.

The researchers then grew the garlic mustard in soil from native woodlands. After a time, they removed these plants and potted native trees in the same soil. The trees did best in pots that had held plants from older populations of garlic mustard, indicating, again, that the plants' toxin output had diminished over time, killing less of the fungus on which the native plants relied.

To determine if the decline in glucosinolate production was allowing native plants to return to areas previously dominated by garlic mustard in the wild, the researchers turned to a unique data set available in Illinois. The Critical Trends Assessment Program (CTAP) is a long-term initiative funded by the state Department of Natural Resources and administered by the INHS that monitors the status of plants, birds and insects across the state every five years. The CTAP began in 1997, and so data from the first two sampling periods were used (1997-2001 and 2002-2007)

Because CTAP includes data on plant abundance, including garlic mustard and native plants from across the state, the researchers were able to determine if native plants were declining or advancing i
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Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Source:Eurekalert  

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