Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) is a woody perennial that has invaded much of Florida. This native of northeastern Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil was brought as an ornamental to both the west and east coasts of Florida at the end of the 19th century. It was recorded as an invader of natural areas in the 1950s, and has since extended its range to cover over 280 000 ha. Our goals were to understand the history of this invasion, as one step toward understanding why this exotic was so successful, and ultimately to improve development of biological control agents. We sampled plants from the native and exotic ranges, particularly Florida, and genotyped these individuals at nuclear and chloroplast loci. Nuclear microsatellite and cpDNA loci reveal strong genetic population structure consistent with limited dispersal in the introduced and native ranges. Bayesian clustering of microsatellite data separates the east and west coast plants in Florida into distinct populations. The two chloroplast haplotypes found in Florida are also concordant with this separation: one predominates on the east coast, the other on the west coast. Analysis of samples collected in South America shows that haplotypes as distinct as the two in Florida are unlikely to have come from a single source population. We conclude that the genetic evidence supports two introductions of Brazilian peppertree into Florida and extensive hybridization between them. The west coast genotype likely came from coastal Brazil at about 27 degrees south, whereas the east coast genotype probably originated from another, as yet unidentified site. As a result of hybridization, the Florida population does not exhibit low genetic variation compared to populations in the native range, possibly increasing its ability to adapt to novel environments. Hybridization also has important consequences for the selection of biocontrol agents since it will not be possible to identify closely co-adapted natural enemies in the native range, necessitating more extensive host testing.
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