Natural selection for salt tolerance quantitative trait loci (QTLs) in wild sunflower hybrids: Implications for the origin of Helianthus paradoxus, a diploid hybrid species


Christian Lexer. Fax: +1 812 855 6705; E-mail:


For a new diploid or homoploid hybrid species to become established, it must diverge ecologically from parental genotypes. Otherwise the hybrid neospecies will be overcome by gene flow or competition. We initiated a series of experiments designed to understand how the homoploid hybrid species, Helianthus paradoxus, was able to colonize salt marsh habitats, when both of its parental species (H. annuus×H. petiolaris) are salt sensitive. Here, we report on the results of a quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis of mineral ion uptake traits and survivorship in 172 BC2 hybrids between H. annuus and H. petiolaris that were planted in H. paradoxus salt marsh habitat in New Mexico. A total of 14 QTLs were detected for mineral ion uptake traits and three for survivorship. Several mineral ion QTLs mapped to the same position as the survivorship QTLs, confirming previous studies, which indicated that salt tolerance in Helianthus is achieved through increased Ca uptake, coupled with greater exclusion of Na and related mineral ions. Of greater general significance was the observation that QTLs with effects in opposing directions were found for survivorship and for all mineral ion uptake traits with more than one detected QTL. This genetic architecture provides an ideal substrate for rapid ecological divergence in hybrid neospecies and offers a simple explanation for the colonization of salt marsh habitats by H. paradoxus. Finally, selection coefficients of +0.126, −0.084 and −0.094 for the three survivorship QTLs, respectively, are sufficiently large to account for establishment of new, homoploid hybrid species.