How to escape from crop-to-weed gene flow: phenological variation and isolation-by-time within weedy sunflower populations


Author for correspondence:

Marie-Hélène Muller

Tel: +33 4 99 61 25 02



  • The evolution of crop-related weeds may be constrained by recurrent gene flow from the crop. However, flowering time variation within weedy populations may open the way for weed adaptation by allowing some weeds to escape from this constraint. We investigated this link between phenology, gene flow and adaptation in weedy sunflower populations that have recently emerged in Europe from crop–wild hybridization.
  • We studied jointly flowering phenology and genetic diversity for 15 microsatellite loci in six cultivated sunflower (Helianthus annuus) fields infested by weedy sunflower populations.
  • The flowering overlap of cultivated and weedy sunflowers varied between and within populations: some weedy individuals were found to be completely isolated from the crop, the frequency of these plants being higher in populations from highly infested fields. Within weedy populations, we detected a pattern of isolation-by-time: the genetic divergence between individuals was positively correlated with their divergence in flowering period. In addition, earlier weeds, which flowered synchronously with the crop, were genetically more similar than late-flowering weeds to the cultivated varieties.
  • Overall, our results suggest that crop-to-weed gene flow occurred, but was limited by divergent phenologies. We discuss the roles of weed adaptation and population history in the generation of this partial reproductive isolation.