Crop-Wild Hybridization

The role of hybridization in adaptive evolution has long been debated. Historically, hybrids have been considered infertile monsters. However, my recent work (funded by NSF DDIG and NSERC Discovery) was the first to experimentally manipulate hybridization rates and reveal the significant contribution of hybridization to adaptive evolution, and among the first to demonstrate rapid evolution, the demographic and allometric implications of hybridization and the context-dependency of the fecundity of hybrids. This research has important implications for the release of engineered crops and their ecological implications.

Collaborations have allowed us to map the phylogenetic patterns of hybridization across 299 families, 3202 genera and >36000 species accounts derived from eight regional floras. Further, we explored the associations between hybridization propensity of those vascular plant families and a diversity of traits, including invasiveness, rarity, domestication, perenniality, mating systems, and genome size (in prep.). Contrary to the prevailing dogma, our results suggest that the signal from the hybridization-invasion process may be relatively weak and easily obscured by other processes governing plant invasions. Further, by adopting non-traditional metrics, our lab group has provided the community a more sensitive mathematical tool to assess the subtle population genetic consequences of hybridization.

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