Polyploidy and interspecific hybridization: partners for adaptation, speciation and evolution in plants

Ann Bot. 2017 Aug 1;120(2):183-194. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcx079.


Background: Polyploidy or whole-genome duplication is now recognized as being present in almost all lineages of higher plants, with multiple rounds of polyploidy occurring in most extant species. The ancient evolutionary events have been identified through genome sequence analysis, while recent hybridization events are found in about half of the world's crops and wild species. Building from this new paradigm for understanding plant evolution, the papers in this Special Issue address questions about polyploidy in ecology, adaptation, reproduction and speciation of wild and cultivated plants from diverse ecosystems. Other papers, including this review, consider genomic aspects of polyploidy.

Approaches: Discovery of the evolutionary consequences of new, evolutionarily recent and ancient polyploidy requires a range of approaches. Large-scale studies of both single species and whole ecosystems, with hundreds to tens of thousands of individuals, sometimes involving 'garden' or transplant experiments, are important for studying adaptation. Molecular studies of genomes are needed to measure diversity in genotypes, showing ancestors, the nature and number of polyploidy and backcross events that have occurred, and allowing analysis of gene expression and transposable element activation. Speciation events and the impact of reticulate evolution require comprehensive phylogenetic analyses and can be assisted by resynthesis of hybrids. In this Special Issue, we include studies ranging in scope from experimental and genomic, through ecological to more theoretical.

Conclusions: The success of polyploidy, displacing the diploid ancestors of almost all plants, is well illustrated by the huge angiosperm diversity that is assumed to originate from recurrent polyploidization events. Strikingly, polyploidization often occurred prior to or simultaneously with major evolutionary transitions and adaptive radiation of species, supporting the concept that polyploidy plays a predominant role in bursts of adaptive speciation. Polyploidy results in immediate genetic redundancy and represents, with the emergence of new gene functions, an important source of novelty. Along with recombination, gene mutation, transposon activity and chromosomal rearrangement, polyploidy and whole-genome duplication act as drivers of evolution and divergence in plant behaviour and gene function, enabling diversification, speciation and hence plant evolution.

Keywords: Polyploidy; adaptation; angiosperms; bryophytes; chromosomes; crops; ecology; evolution; genomics; hybrids; phylogeny; speciation; weeds; whole-genome duplication (WGD).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Genetic Speciation*
  • Genome, Plant
  • Hybridization, Genetic*
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Polyploidy*