Phenotypic and genetic evidence for ecological speciation of Aquilegia japonica and A. oxysepala

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Summary

  • Natural selection is thought to be a driving force that can cause the evolution of reproductive isolation. The genus Aquilegia is a model system to address how natural selection promotes the process of speciation.
  • Morphological differences between A. oxysepala, A. japonica and their hybrids were quantified for two vegetative (plant height and leaf area) and three floral morphological (sepal area, corolla length and diameter) traits. We also evaluated the genetic variability of the two species and their hybrids based on two chloroplast (1225 bp), four nuclear (5811 bp) genes and 15 microsatellites.
  • Our results revealed that differentiation of A. japonica and A. oxysepala at the ecological and morphological levels also involved divergence at the genetic level. In addition, the analysis of nucleotide variation patterns showed that the two species possessed numerous fixation sites at nuclear genes gAA4, gA7 and gAA12. Furthermore, we found that all of the phenotypic hybrids also showed a genetically admixed ancestry.
  • These findings suggest that natural selection has indeed facilitated the formation of distinct genetic variation patterns in the two Aquilegia species and habitat adaptation has been driving the ecologically based evolution of reproductive isolation.

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