Maternal control of early life history traits affects overwinter survival and seedling phenotypes in sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.)

Plant Biol (Stuttg). 2021 Mar;23(2):307-316. doi: 10.1111/plb.13220. Epub 2021 Jan 7.


When cultivated and wild plants hybridize, hybrids often show intermediate phenotypic traits relative to their parents, which makes them unfit in natural environments. However, maternal genetic effects may affect the outcome of hybridization by controlling expression of the earliest life history traits. Here, using wild, cultivated and reciprocal crop-wild sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) hybrids, we evaluated the maternal effects on emergence timing and seedling establishment in the field and on seedling traits under controlled conditions. In the field, we evaluated reciprocal crop-wild hybrids between two wild populations with contrasting dormancy (the high dormant BAR and the low dormant DIA) and one cultivar (CROP) with low dormancy. Under controlled conditions, we evaluated reciprocal crop-wild hybrids between two wild populations (BAR and RCU) and one CROP under three contrasting temperature treatments. In the field, BAR overwintered as dormant seeds whereas DIA and CROP showed high autumn emergence (~50% of planted seeds), resulting in differential overwinter survival and seedling establishment in the spring. Reciprocal crop-wild hybrids resembled their female parents in emergence timing and success of seedling establishment. Under controlled conditions, we observed large maternal effects on most seedling traits across temperatures. Cotyledon size explained most of the variation in seedling traits, suggesting that the maternal effects on seed size have cascading effects on seedling traits. Maternal effects on early life history traits affect early plant survival and phenotypic variation of crop-wild hybrids, thus, they should be addressed in hybridization studies, especially those involving highly divergent parents, such as cultivated species and their wild ancestors.

Keywords: crop-wild hybrids; early life history traits; hybridization; maternal effects.

MeSH terms

  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics
  • Helianthus* / genetics
  • Life History Traits*
  • Phenotype
  • Seedlings* / genetics