Reproductive processes in two oak (Quercus) contact zones with different levels of hybridization

J H Williams, W J Boecklen, D J Howard
Heredity 2001, 87: 680-90
Patterns of reproductive isolation between two sympatric species of oaks, Quercus gambelii and Q. grisea, that exhibit strong ecological differentiation were examined. A full diallel cross using four trees of each species (i.e. all possible pollinations among eight trees) was performed. This design was repeated at two sites that represent different outcomes of sympatry: (1) a xeric mountain ridge where many hybrids are established (HZ); and (2) a mesic valley bottom where virtually no hybrids are established (MOCYN). By measuring fruit survival at several developmental stages, both the timing and strength of reproductive barriers within and between sites, species, cross types, and pollen dosage levels were examined. In three of four cases, heterospecific fruit set was significantly reduced compared to conspecific fruit set. This reduction occurred after the time of fertilization, but before the onset of embryo growth. Increasing the dose of pollen from an average of 9-194 grains/stigma did not affect this result. Thus, early postfertilization processes play a strong role in species fidelity in these oaks. Quercus gambelii experienced a five-fold decrease in conspecific fruit set at HZ relative to MOCYN. In contrast, heterospecific fruit set of Q. gambelii was the same at both sites. Poor Q. gambelii pollen performance is implicated as playing the major role in this result. One Q. gambelii individual at HZ was highly fecund, and had higher heterospecific than conspecific fruit set; slight introgression in this tree was detected uisng RAPD markers. The Environmental Emasculation Hypothesis that posits that environmental stress can increase the probability of hybrid formation by reducing the competitive ability of male gametes of one species is proposed.

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