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Mellow in Europe, crazy in America

Reed canarygrass is a bit like some people on vacation. At home, they stay on their side of the fence, and speak nicely with the neighbors. But jet them into Las Vegas and by week's end they are shoving other people out of the way in the casino.

Similarly, the reed canarygrass is well-settled in its native European range, not pushing out other species or expanding its terrain. But, introduced into the United States, it's running amok ecologically, choking out native plants in wetlands. Once praised as a fine forage crop, the grass is now considered an invasive pest in about ten states and its range is growing.

Studying this grass as a model, Jane Molofsky, associate professor of plant biology at the University of Vermont and her French colleague, Sebastien Lavergne, have discovered a novel mechanism to explain the surprising conversion of some plant species from quiet neighbor at home into expansive bully in new territory.

As they report in the February 27, 2007, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the invasive power of this grass, brought to America in the mid-19th century and many times thereafter, comes not from any one individual plant, but from this history of multiple introductions from different regions of Europe.

Over decades, US farmers and others have planted the grass as livestock feed, for erosion control, and for wastewater treatmentwith plants taken from places as far apart as France, the Czech Republic and Finland.

These multiple introductions, and subsequent interbreeding, create a kind of biological stacked deck: drawing on genetic variety from across the European continent, new strains have emerged in the US with higher genetic diversity and more potentially advantageous qualities than their species brethren across the Atlantic.

"It's not that you're taking the ones in France and moving them to the US and they're suddenly invasive," Molofsky said, l
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Contact: Joshua Brown
joshua.e.brown@uvm.edu
802-656-3039
University of Vermont
26-Feb-2007


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