Unravelling the Paradox of Loss of Genetic Variation during Invasion: Superclones May Explain the Success of a Clonal Invader

<div><p>Clonality is a common characteristic of successful invasive species, but general principles underpinning the success of clonal invaders are not established. A number of mechanisms could contribute to invasion success including clones with broad tolerances and preferences, specialist clones and adaptation <i>in situ</i>. The majority of studies to date have been of plants and some invertebrate parthenogens, particularly aphids, and have not necessarily caught invasion at very early stages. Here we describe the early stages of an invasion by a Northern Hemisphere Hymenopteran model in three different land masses in the Southern Hemisphere. <i>Nematus oligospilus</i> Förster (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae), a sawfly feeding on willows (<i>Salix</i> spp.), was recently introduced to the Southern Hemisphere where it has become invasive and is strictly parthenogenetic. In this study, the number of <i>N. oligospilus</i> clones, their distribution in the landscape and on different willow hosts in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia were assessed using 25 microsatellite markers. Evidence is presented for the presence of two very common and widespread multilocus genotypes (MLGs) or ‘superclones’ dominating in the three countries. Rarer MLGs were closely related to the most widespread superclone; it is plausible that all <i>N. oligospilus</i> individuals were derived from a single clone. A few initial introductions to Australia and New Zealand seemed to have occurred. Our results point towards a separate introduction in Western Australia, potentially from South Africa. Rarer clones that were dominant locally putatively arose <i>in situ</i>, and might be locally favoured, or simply have not yet had time to spread. Data presented represent rare baseline data early in the invasion process for insights into the mechanisms that underlie the success of a global invader, and develop <i>Nematus oligospilus</i> as a valuable model to understand invasion genetics of clonal pests.</p></div>