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Keywords:

  • amplified fragment length polymorphism;
  • hybridization;
  • Orchidaceae;
  • reproductive barriers;
  • Serapias cordigera;
  • Serapias vomeracea

Abstract

Understanding the genetic architecture of admixed hybridizing populations helps in evaluating the nature of species boundaries and the levels of gene exchange between co-occurring species. In the present study, we examined a contact zone between Serapias vomeracea and Serapias cordigera, two unrewarding Mediterranean orchid species with a non-specific pollination strategy. Fruit production and seed viability from interspecific hand-pollination treatments pointed out the weaknesses of post-pollination barriers. The occurrence of hybridization was molecularly confirmed in the genus Serapias for the first time, as parts of plants with a transitional morphology were observed in both alleles of the parental LEAFY intron. Amplified fragment length polymorphism analysis revealed that plants with uncertain morphology and classified as one of the other parental species are actually backcrosses, attesting to an extensive interspecific gene exchange. Overall, the contact zone is more similar to a hybrid zone of Ophrys species, well known for their highly specialized pollination, than to a hybrid zone of unspecialized food-deceptive orchids. Therefore, species boundaries in Serapias are maintained by pre-pollination mechanisms that need to be better investigated. In light of the intriguing similarities between Serapias and Ophrys underlined by the present study, we hypothesize that the emission of floral scents could be involved in the maintenance of species boundaries in Serapias.