The genetic ghost of an invasion past: colonization and extinction revealed by historical hybridization in Senecio


Pieter B. Pelser, Fax: +64 33642590; E-mail:


Hybridization is an important evolutionary factor in the diversification of many plant and animal species. Of particular interest is that historical hybridization resulting in the origin of new species or introgressants has occurred between species now geographically separated by great distances. Here, we report that Senecio massaicus, a tetraploid species native to Morocco and the Canary Islands, contains genetic material of two distinct, geographically separated lineages: a Mediterranean lineage and a mainly southern African lineage. A time-calibrated internal transcribed spacer phylogeny indicates that the hybridization event took place up to 6.18 Ma. Because the southern African lineage has never been recorded from Morocco or the Canary Islands, we hypothesize that it reached this area in the distant past, but never became permanently established. Interestingly, the southern African lineage includes S. inaequidens, a highly invasive species that has recently become widespread throughout Europe and was introduced at the end of the 19th century as a ‘wool alien’. Our results suggest that this more recent invasion of Europe by S. inaequidens represents the second arrival of this lineage into the region.