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Evolution. 2002 Oct;56(10):1943-53.

Hybrid bridges to gene flow: a case study in milkweeds (Asclepias).

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Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York College at Cortland, 13045, USA.


Natural hybridization occurs throughout areas of sympatry for the North American milkweeds Asclepias exaltata and A. syriaca (Asclepiadaceae), even though the formation of F1 hybrid seed is a rare event. For introgressive hybridization to proceed, F1 and advanced hybrids must be released from reproductive barriers and successfully mate with one or both parental species. I investigated the mating system of natural hybrids between A. exaltata and A. syriaca in three populations in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Allozyme data and a maximum-likelihood procedure were used to estimate the frequency of six genotypic classes (parentals, F1, F2, and backcrosses) of the hybridizing populations, the pollinia received by hybrid plants, and the paternal parents of seeds produced by hybrids. F1 hybrids, backcross A. syriaca, and parental A. syriaca individuals were common in three hybrid populations. Even though self-pollinations and interhybrid pollinations were common, F2 seed production and the occurrence of F2 individuals were rare in hybrid populations. Hybrid plants received more pollen from A. syriaca than A. exaltata, which resulted in the production of more backcross-A. syriaca seed than backcross-A. exaltata seed. Asclepias exaltata was rare in the hybrid populations, but A. exaltata pollinia were received by hybrids and this species sired between 15% and 36% of the seeds produced on hybrids. The potential for introgression with A. exaltata populations is lower because this species is unsuccessful as the maternal parent in interspecific and backcross hand-pollinations. The asymetry of hybridization with A. syriaca as the maternal parent is further supported by the incorporation of maternally inherited chloroplast DNA markers in hybrids. Hybrid milkweeds frequently backcross with both parental species and may be released from the reproductive barriers that limit the formation of F1 hybrids in natural populations. The direction of interspecific gene flow and introgression in milkweeds is influenced by the reproductive biology of hybrids, the constituency of the surrounding population, and failure of some crosses to produce seeds. Finally, introgressive hybridization remains an important evolutionary force even when the initial formation of F1 hybrids in natural populations is rare.

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