The ecology and evolution of invasive Potamopyrgus antipodarum in Australia

  • Adrian Dusting

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The spread of invasive organisms is one of the greatest threats to ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide. Understanding the evolutionary and ecological factors responsible for the transport, introduction, establishment and spread of invasive species will assist the development of control strategies. The New Zealand mudsnail, Potamopyrgus antipodarum (Gray 1843) (Gastropoda: Hydrobiidae),is a global freshwater invader, with populations established in Europe, Asia, the Americas and Australia. While sexual and asexual P. antipodarum coexist in the native range, invasive populations reproduce by parthenogenesis, producing dense populations that compete for resources with native species. Potamopyrgus antipodarum is a natural model system for the study of evolutionary and ecological processes underlying invasion. This thesis assesses the invasion history, genetic diversity and ecology of P. antipodarum in Australia, with particular focus on: a) potential source populations, b) distribution and structure of populations, and c) species traits related to the establishment, persistence and spread of invasive P. antipodarum. Genetic analyses were carried out on specimens collected for this study from New Zealand and Australia, along with existing museum samples. In combination with published data, the analyses revealed low genetic diversity among and within invasive populations in south-eastern Australia, relative to New Zealand populations. Phylogenetic relationships inferred from mitochondrial sequences indicated that the Australian populations belong to clades dominated by parthenogenetic haplotypes that are known to be present in Europe and the US. These ‘invasive clades’ are likely to originate from the North Island of New Zealand, and suggest a role for selection in determining genetic composition of invasive populations. The genotypic diversity of Australian P. antipodarum was low, with few, closely related clones distributed across south-eastern Australia. The pattern of clone distribution was not consistent with any assessed geographical or abiotic factors; instead a few, widely-distributed clones were present in high frequencies at most sites. Differences in clone frequencies were found, which may indicate differential success of clonal lineages. A range of traits have been proposed as facilitators of invasion success, and within-species variation in these traits can promote differential success of genotypes. Using laboratory-based experiments, the performance of the three most common Australian clones was tested across a suite of invasion-relevant traits. Ecologically-relevant variation in traits was found among the clones. These differences may have determined the spatial distribution of clones, and may continue to do so into the future. This thesis found that the P. antipodarum invasion of Australia is the result of few introductions of a small number of globally-invasive genotypes that vary in ecologically-relevant traits. From a source of considerable genetic diversity in the native range, very few genotypes have become invasive. Those that are invasive appear to be very successful at continental scales. These findings highlight a capacity in asexual invaders to successfully invade, and potentially adapt to, a broad range of ecosystems. The P. antipodarum invasion system is amenable to research using combinations of field-based studies, molecular and laboratory approaches, and is likely to yield significant, broadly-applicable insights into invasion.
    Date of Award2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRoss Thompson (Supervisor), Dianne Gleeson (Supervisor) & Paul Sunnucks (Supervisor)

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