Genomic and phenotypic architecture of a spruce hybrid zone (Picea sitchensis × P. glauca)

Jill A. Hamilton, Christian Lexer, Sally N. Aitken

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57 Scopus citations


Interspecific hybridization may enhance the capacity of populations to adapt to changing environments, and has practical implications for reforestation. We use genome-wide estimates of admixture and phenotypic traits for trees in a common garden to examine the extent and direction of gene flow across a Picea hybrid zone, testing assumptions of the bounded hybrid superiority and tension zone models of hybrid zone maintenance. Seeds were collected from the ecological transition zone spanning from maritime to continental climates across the Picea sitchensis-P. glauca contact zone, and 721 trees were planted in a common garden experiment within the hybrid zone. Individuals were genotyped using a panel of 384 candidate-gene single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) putatively associated with adaptive traits in Picea, and phenotyped at age ten for height and autumn cold hardiness. Low interspecific heterozygosity in hybrids indicated that intrinsic reproductive barriers were too weak to prevent widespread recombination, although introgression appeared asymmetric with P. sitchensis dominating the zone. Whereas marker-based hybrid index was strongly correlated with climate and geography, phenotypic traits exhibited weak or no significant clines. Our results indicated that exogenous selection appeared to play a strong role in the distribution and structure of this hybrid zone, indicative of an environmentally determined bounded hybrid superiority model of hybrid zone maintenance, although endogenous mechanisms could not be ruled out. This study provides insight into the mechanisms underlying adaptation across ecologically transitional hybrid zones that will ultimately provide an additional tool in managing these economically important tree species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)827-841
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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