Temperate forests are widely invaded by shade-tolerant shrubs and trees, including those of Eastern North America (ENA). However, it remains unknown whether these invaders are 'preadapted' for success in their new ranges due to unique aspects of their evolutionary history or whether selection due to enemy release or other postintroduction processes have driven rapid evolution in the invaded range. We sampled leaf traits of populations of woody understory invaders across light gradients in their native range in Japan and in their invaded ENA range to examine potential phenotypic shifts related to carbon gain and nitrogen use between ranges. We also measured leaf traits in three co-occurring ENA native shrub species. In their invaded range, invaders invested significantly less in leaf chlorophyll content (both per unit leaf mass and area) compared with native range populations of the same species, yet maintained similar rates of photosynthesis in low light. In addition, compared with ENA natives, ENA invaders displayed greater trait variation in response to increasing light availability (forest edges, gaps), giving them a potential advantage over ENA natives in a variety of light conditions. We conclude that, for this group of species, newly evolved phenotypes in the invaded range are more important than preadaptation for their success as shade-tolerant forest invaders.
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