Rethinking the common garden in invasion research

Kirk A. Moloney, Claus Holzapfel, Katja Tielbörger, Florian Jeltsch, Frank M. Schurr

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


In common garden experiments, a number of genotypes are raised in a common environment in order to quantify the genetic component of phenotypic variation. Common gardens are thus ideally suited for disentangling how genetic and environmental factors contribute to the success of invasive species in their new non-native range. Although common garden experiments are increasingly employed in the study of invasive species, there has been little discussion about how these experiments should be designed for greatest utility. We argue that this has delayed progress in developing a general theory of invasion biology. We suggest a minimum optimal design (MOD) for common garden studies that target the ecological and evolutionary processes leading to phenotypic differentiation between native and invasive ranges. This involves four elements: (A) multiple, strategically sited garden locations, involving at the very least four gardens (2 in the native range and 2 in the invaded range); (B) careful consideration of the genetic design of the experiment; (C) standardization of experimental protocols across all gardens; and (D) care to ensure the biosafety of the experiment. Our understanding of the evolutionary ecology of biological invasions will be greatly enhanced by common garden studies, if and only if they are designed in a more systematic fashion, incorporating at the very least the MOD suggested here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-320
Number of pages10
JournalPerspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 20 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


  • Adaptive evolution
  • Common garden
  • Invasive species
  • Lythrum salicaria
  • Maron effect
  • Phenotypic plasticity


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