Monkeying around with ploidy


Correspondence: Richard J. A. Buggs, Fax: +44(0)2078827732; E-mail:


Inferences of whole genome duplication (WGD) events accompany the annotation of every newly sequenced plant genome, but much remains unknown about the evolutionary processes and pathways relating to WGD (Soltis et al. 2010). What ecological, biogeographical and genetic factors cause WGD to occur in nature? How does WGD affect gene expression? How do genomes evolve after WGD? New species that have arisen recently through WGD are good places to seek answers to such questions. These could be relatively common in nature, but reliably demonstrating their recent origin requires documentary evidence, which can be very hard to come by. Thus far, records of species introductions and meticulous botanizing have demonstrated six new natural allopolyploids in just four genera: Tragopogon miscellus and T. mirus, Senecio cambrensis and S. eboracensis, Spartina anglica and Cardamine schultzii (Abbott & Rieseberg 2012; Ainouche et al. 2009; Soltis & Soltis 2009). It is risky to generalize about a universal feature of plant evolution from such a small sample; more examples are needed, in different genera. It is therefore of considerable interest that Mario Vallejo-Marin of University of Stirling has this year named a new allopolyploid species of monkey flower, Mimulus peregrinus, and presented evidence that it is <140 years old (Vallejo-Marin 2012). This discovery is particularly timely as the monkey flower genus is developing rapidly as a model system for ecological genetics (Wu et al. 2008), and in the current issue of Molecular Ecology, Jennifer Modliszewski and John Willis of Duke University present new data showing high genetic diversity in another recently discovered monkey flower allopolyploid, M. sookensis (Modliszewski & Willis 2012).