Variation in morphological traits in a recent hybrid zone between closely related Quercus liaotungensis and Q. mongolica (Fagaceae)

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Abstract

Aims

Hybridization usually leads to gene introgression between related species in hybrid zones, associated with complex patterns of morphological variation. Nevertheless, previous studies have tended to ignore the effects of geographic variation in hybridization rates on species taxonomy. This study aims to investigate the variation of morphological traits between two sympatric and taxonomically confused oak species, Quercus liaotungensis and Q. mongolica, and reveal the effects of hybridization rates on morphological traits and the taxonomic boundary.

Methods

We used seven microsatellite loci to evaluate species status and measured 15 morphological traits in 26 trees in the recent hybrid zone between Q. liaotungensis and Q. mongolica, and we characterized the differences between the two oak species and their hybrids for the investigated traits.

Important Findings

Molecular analyses indicated that 74% of 78 sampled maternal trees were hybrids between Q. liaotungensis and Q. mongolica although the observed morphological variation suggested that they had remained distinct species. Across all of the differentiated leaf and reproductive traits, the hybrids expressed patterns similar to Q. liaotungensis, which may suggest dominant expression of parental characters. These results are consistent with our expectation that hybrids will be difficult to distinguish from parental species in a recent hybrid zone.

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