Hybrid zones as a tool for identifying adaptive genetic variation in outbreeding forest trees: lessons from wild annual sunflowers (Helianthus spp.). uri icon

abstract

  • The identification and study of adaptively important genes in forest trees represents a formidable challenge because of their long generation spans. In annual or perennial herbs, formal genetic studies can be employed to identify the quantitative trait loci (QTLs) and/or candidate genes that underlie important traits, and the segregating populations can be transplanted into natural populations to measure the strength and direction of selection. However, the application of these methods to forest trees is difficult. because the creation of appropriate genetic material is extremely time-consuming in long-lived, woody plants, and lifetime fitness estimates are difficult or impossible to obtain. Although QTL mapping should in principle be feasible in wild intraspecific populations (as an alternative to artificial crosses), this approach is less likely to be successful in trees because LD (linkage disequilibrium) will decay quickly in large outbreeding plant populations. Within the present paper, we discuss a modified approach based on natural hybrid zones. We describe the use of wild annual sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) as a model for exploring the hybrid zone approach. Transplanted experimental hybrids allowed us to assess the adaptive value of individual chromosomal blocks in nature, and data on natural Helianthus hybrids suggest that similar approaches are possible in natural hybrid zones. Our results allowed us to test the role of hybridization in the origin of ecological divergence in wild sunflowers. In addition, they have practical implications for identifying adaptively important genes or QTLs in trees. This is exemplified by three temperate forest taxa, Populus (poplars, aspens, cottonwoods), Fraxinus (ash), and Quercus (oak). All three are diploid and important genomic tools are under development. Moreover, all three offer extensive hybrid zones whose likely age can be inferred from fossil data. Age data enables estimates of the size and frequency of chromosomal blocks in hybrids, thereby providing guidance in designing marker-based experiments. We predict that natural hybrid zones will be valuable tools for identifying the QTLs and/or candidate genes responsible for adaptive traits in forest trees. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • 2004
  • 2004