Reproductive isolation among two interfertile Rhododendron species: low frequency of post-F1 hybrid genotypes in alpine hybrid zones


Dr Richard Milne, Fax: (44) 131 6505392; E-mail:


Hybrids between the acid-loving species Rhododendron ferrugineum and the basic soil species Rhododendron hirsutum occur on soils of intermediate pH in the European Alps. Material from two hybrid zones ~500 m apart, and also nearby populations of each parent species, was surveyed for presence/absence of 31 random amplified polymorphic DNA markers that distinguish parents. Based on morphological assessment, the material comprised 51 putative hybrids, 18 putative R. ferrugineum individuals and 26 putative R. hirsutum plants. RAPD data were analysed using a Bayesian approach implemented by the program newhybrids, and also by principal coordinates analysis. The identity of all R. ferrugineum plants examined was confirmed; however, of the putative R. hirsutum individuals examined, two were certainly and 11 possibly hybrid derivatives. Among all hybrid derivatives examined, about half were designated as F1s or a similar class, otherwise backcrosses to R. hirsutum appeared to be common whereas other hybrid classes were rare and backcrosses to R. ferrugineum possibly absent. Despite this, artificially generated seed of F2 class and backcrosses in each direction showed greater viability than one parent (R. hirsutum). Introgression from R. ferrugineum was also detected in a population that from morphology appeared to contain only R. hirsutum. Hence, the direction of backcrossing might be highly asymmetric within hybrid zones, causing unidirectional gene flow from R. ferrugineum into R. hirsutum. Conversely, the rarity of backcrosses to R. ferrugineum, F2s and later hybrid generations, which might be due to phenology effects and habitat-mediated selection, could play a part in restricting gene flow towards R. ferrugineum.