Genetic control of invasive plants species using selfish genetic elements

K. A. Hodgins, L. Rieseberg and S. P. Otto,  Evolutionary Applications,  2:555-569. 2009.

Invasive plants cause substantial environmental damage and economic loss. Here, we explore the possibility that a selfish genetic element found in plants called cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) could be exploited for weed control. CMS is caused by mutations in the mitochondrial genome that sterilize male reproductive organs. We developed an analytical model and a spatial simulation to assess the use of CMS alleles to manage weed populations. Specifically, we examined how fertility, selfing, pollen limitation and dispersal influenced extinction rate and time until extinction in populations where CMS arises. We found that the introduction of a CMS allele can cause rapid population extinction, but only under a restricted set of conditions. Both models suggest that the CMS strategy will be appropriate for species where pollen limitation is negligible, inbreeding depression is high and the fertility advantage of females over hermaphrodites is substantial. In general, spatial structure did not have a strong influence on the simulation outcome, although low pollen dispersal and intermediate levels of seed dispersal tended to reduce population extinction rates. Given these results, the introduction of CMS alleles into a population of invasive plants probably represents an effective control method for only a select number of species.