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The literature suggests that small genomes promote invasion in plants, but little is known about the interaction of genome size with other traits or about the role of genome size during different phases of the invasion process. By intercontinental comparison of native and invasive populations of the common reed Phragmites australis, we revealed a distinct relationship between genome size and invasiveness at the intraspecific level. Monoploid genome size was the only significant variable that clearly separated the North American native plants from those of European origin. The mean Cx value (the amount of DNA in one chromosome set) for source European native populations was 0.490 ± 0.007 (mean ± SD), for North American invasive 0.506 ± 0.020, and for North American native 0.543 ± 0.021. Relative to native populations, the European populations that successfully invaded North America had a smaller genome that was associated with plant traits favoring invasiveness (long rhizomes, early emerging abundant shoots, resistance to aphid attack, and low C:N ratio). The knowledge that invasive populations within species can be identified based on genome size can be applied to screen potentially invasive populations of Phragmites in other parts of the world where they could grow in mixed stands with native plants, as well as to other plant species with intraspecific variation in invasion potential. Moreover, as small genomes are better equipped to respond to extreme environmental conditions such as drought, the mechanism reported here may represent an emerging driver for future invasions and range expansions.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.