Adaptive introgression of abiotic tolerance traits in the sunflower Helianthus annuus


Author for correspondence:
K. Whitney
Tel: +1 713 348 3057


  • Adaptive trait introgression is increasingly recognized as common. However, it is unclear whether adaptive genetic exchanges typically affect only a single trait, or instead affect multiple aspects of the phenotype. Here, we examine introgression of abiotic tolerance traits between two hybridizing North American sunflower species, Helianthus annuus and Helianthus debilis.
  • In two common gardens in the hybrid range, we measured 10 ecophysiological, phenological, and architectural traits for parents and their natural and artificial hybrids, and examined how fitness covaried with trait values.
  • Eight of the 10 traits showed patterns consistent with introgression from H. debilis into H. annuus, and suggested that H. debilis-like traits allowing rapid growth and reproduction before summer heat and drought have been favored in the hybrid range. Natural selection currently favors BC1 hybrids with H. debilis-like branching traits.
  • We demonstrate that introgression has altered multiple aspects of the H. annuus phenotype in an adaptive manner, has affected traits relevant to both biotic and abiotic environments, and may have aided expansion of the H. annuus range into central Texas, USA.