Genetic integrity of sympatric hybridising plant species: the case of Orchis italica and O. anthropophora


  • Editor
    M. Koornneef

G. Pellegrino, Department of Ecology, University of Calabria, via Bucci 6/B, I-87036 Rende (CS), Italy.


Plant species diversification entails the action of reproductive barriers, which are severely challenged when related species grow in contact and form hybrid progeny. Orchis italica and O. anthropophora are two related orchid species that produce a known hybrid form, O. xbivonae. Here, we analysed a hybrid zone of these two orchids using molecular analysis and experimental crosses. As molecular tools, we employed both real-time PCR and PCR amplification of nuclear markers to evaluate the occurrence of backcross recombination. With these approaches, we demonstrated that all examined hybrids belong to the F1 generation. Chloroplast DNA analysis showed that O. anthropophora was the maternal species of most of hybrid specimens and that cytoplasmic introgression was lacking in both parental species. Pollination experiments showed that the two orchid species were strictly out-crossing, although self-compatible, and have comparable levels of reproductive fitness in all crossing treatments. Conversely, hybrids demonstrated low reproductive success in all intra- and back-crossing treatments. The absence of any backcross generations and plastid introgression suggest that O. xbivonae does not represent a bridge to gene flow between O. italica and O. anthropophora. Indeed, the low hybrid fitness testifies to the effectiveness of late post-zygotic barriers occurring between the parental species.