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Keywords:

  • Anonymous loci;
  • effective population size;
  • Helianthus;
  • historical demography;
  • hybridization;
  • introgression

Hybridization between distinct species may lead to introgression of genes across species boundaries, and this pattern can potentially persist for extended periods as long as selection at some loci or genomic regions prevents thorough mixing of gene pools. However, very few reliable estimates of long-term levels of effective migration are available between hybridizing species throughout their history. Accurate estimates of divergence dates and levels of gene flow require data from multiple unlinked loci as well as an analytical framework that can distinguish between lineage sorting and gene flow and incorporate the effects of demographic changes within each species. Here we use sequence data from 18 anonymous nuclear loci in two broadly sympatric sunflower species, Helianthus annuus and H. petiolaris, analyzed within an “isolation with migration” framework to make genome-wide estimates of the ages of these two species, long-term rates of gene flow between them, and effective population sizes and historical patterns of population growth. Our results indicate that H. annuus and H. petiolaris are approximately one million years old and have exchanged genes at a surprisingly high rate (long-term Nefm estimates of approximately 0.5 in each direction), with somewhat higher rates of introgression from H. annuus into H. petiolaris than vice versa. In addition, each species has undergone dramatic population expansion since divergence, and both species have among the highest levels of genetic diversity reported for flowering plants. Our results provide the most comprehensive estimate to date of long-term patterns of gene flow and historical demography in a nonmodel plant system, and they indicate that species integrity can be maintained even in the face of extensive gene flow over a prolonged period.