Spread of violets in polluted pine forests: morphological and molecular evidence for the ecological importance of interspecific hybridization


H. Auge Fax: +49-345-5585329; E-mail: aug@oesa.ufz.de


Hybridization between plant species occurs frequently but hybrids are often restricted to ecotones or disturbed habitats. In this study we show that introgressive hybrids between the tetraploid Viola riviniana and the diploid V. reichenbachiana invaded pine forests of the Dübener Heide (central Germany), an area affected by calcareous pollutants. The spread of these violet populations was correlated with the impact of pollution on habitat conditions. We compared morphology, cytology and random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) bands among six Viola populations from the Dübener Heide and three populations of each pure species. RAPD analysis using 12 primers revealed 141 scorable bands. We considered bands as species specific if they occurred in at least 75% of the plants in one pure violet species but in none of the other. Seven bands were specific to V. riviniana and 11 bands were specific to V. reichenbachiana. Two plants of a V. reichenbachiana population were identified as hybrids. Of the Viola populations from the Dübener Heide, one was diploid and could be classified as V. reichenbachiana by morphology and RAPD markers. However, the majority of the Dübener Heide populations were tetraploid, and of a more variable morphology than V. riviniana and V. reichenbachiana, showing different combinations of intermediate characters, characters of the pure species and extreme characters. Despite their overall genetic similarity to V. riviniana, these plants could be identified as introgressive hybrids between V. riviniana and V. reichenbachiana by species-specific RAPD bands. Therefore, we propose that recurrent hybridization and backcrossing resulted in novel genotypes adapted to the changed environment of polluted pine forests.