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The strength of reproductive isolation in two hybridizing food-deceptive orchid species


Salvatore Cozzolino, Fax: +39081450165; E-mail:


Reproductive isolation is of fundamental importance for maintaining species boundaries in sympatry. In orchids, the wide variety of pollination systems and highly diverse floral traits have traditionally suggested a prominent role for pollinator isolation, and thus for prezygotic isolation, as an effective barrier to gene flow among species. Here, we examined the nature of reproductive isolation between Anacamptis morio and Anacamptis papilionacea, two sister species of Mediterranean food-deceptive orchids, in two natural hybrid zones. Comparative analyses of the two hybrid zones that are located on soils with volcanic origin and have different and well-dated ages consistently revealed that all hybrid individuals were morphologically and genetically intermediate between the parental species, but had strongly reduced fitness. Molecular analyses based on nuclear ITS1 and (amplified fragment length polymorphism) AFLP markers clearly showed that all examined hybrids were F1 hybrids, and that no introgression occurred between parental species. The maternally inherited plastid DNA markers indicated that hybridization between A. morio and A. papilionacea was bidirectional, as confirmed by the molecular analysis of seed families. The genetic architecture of the two hybrid zones suggests that the two parental species easily and frequently hybridize in sympatry as a consequence of partial pollinator overlap but that strong postzygotic barriers reduce hybrid fitness and prevent gene introgression. These results corroborate that chromosomal divergence is instrumental for reproductive isolation between these food-deceptive orchids and suggest that hybridization is of limited importance for their diversification.