The study of colonizing and of dominant grass species is essential for prairie conservation efforts. We sought to answer how naturalized Kentucky bluegrass in the northern Great Plains has become successful in the last 20 yr despite its long history in the northern Great Plains. We tested for evidence of geographical differentiation using flow cytometry and microsatellite markers to ascertain the population genetics of Kentucky bluegrass. Across all tested wild populations, high levels of genetic diversity were detected along with moderate levels of structure. Mantel tests of geographical patterns were not significant. Using clonal assignment, we found two major clones that made up the majority of the tested wild populations. When we compared the wild individuals to pedigree cultivars, we found virtually no genetic overlap across all tests, which did not support our hypothesis of developed cultivars contributing to high genetic diversity in natural populations. Furthermore, DNA content tests indicated a narrow range in ploidy in wild populations compared with lawn cultivars, further supporting a hypothesis of divergence between wild and pedigree cultivars. These results indicate the recent invasion of Kentucky bluegrass in the northern Great Plains is not because of adaptation or propagule pressure, but rather likely an environmental or land use shift.
Nomenclature: Kentucky bluegrass, Poa pratensis L.