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Unexpected ancestry of Populus seedlings from a hybrid zone implies a large role for postzygotic selection in the maintenance of species



In the context of potential interspecific gene flow, the integrity of species will be maintained by reproductive barriers that reduce genetic exchange, including traits associated with prezygotic isolation or poor performance of hybrids. Hybrid zones can be used to study the importance of different reproductive barriers, particularly when both parental species and hybrids occur in close spatial proximity. We investigated the importance of barriers to gene flow that act early vs. late in the life cycle of European Populus by quantifying the prevalence of homospecific and hybrid matings within a mosaic hybrid zone. We obtained genotypic data for 11 976 loci from progeny and their maternal parents and constructed a Bayesian model to estimate individual admixture proportions and hybrid classes for sampled trees and for the unsampled pollen parent. Matings that included one or two hybrid parents were common, resulting in admixture proportions of progeny that spanned the whole range of potential ancestries between the two parental species. This result contrasts strongly with the distribution of admixture proportions in adult trees, where intermediate hybrids and each of the parental species are separated into three discrete ancestry clusters. The existence of the full range of hybrids in seedlings is consistent with weak reproductive isolation early in the life cycle of Populus. Instead, a considerable amount of selection must take place between the seedling stage and maturity to remove many hybrid seedlings. Our results highlight that high hybridization rates and appreciable hybrid fitness do not necessarily conflict with the maintenance of species integrity.

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