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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Apr 26;108(17):7096-101. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1016631108. Epub 2011 Mar 14.

Polyploidy and ecological adaptation in wild yarrow.

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Department of Biology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627, USA.


Chromosome evolution in flowering plants is often punctuated by polyploidy, genome duplication events that fundamentally alter DNA content, chromosome number, and gene dosage. Polyploidy confers postzygotic reproductive isolation and is thought to drive ecological divergence and range expansion. The adaptive value of polyploidy, however, remains uncertain; ecologists have traditionally relied on observational methods that cannot distinguish effects of polyploidy per se from genic differences that accumulate after genome duplication. Here I use an experimental approach to test how polyploidy mediates ecological divergence in Achillea borealis (Asteraceae), a widespread tetraploid plant with localized hexaploid populations. In coastal California, tetraploids and hexaploids occupy mesic grassland and xeric dune habitats, respectively. Using field transplant experiments with wild-collected plants, I show that hexaploids have a fivefold fitness advantage over tetraploids in dune habitats. Parallel experiments with neohexaploids--first-generation mutants screened from a tetraploid genetic background--reveal that a 70% fitness advantage is achieved via genome duplication per se. These results suggest that genome duplication transforms features of A. borealis in a manner that confers adaptation to a novel environment.

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