New study tests 90-year old hybridisation theory

November 5, 2013
Claudia Voelckel, lead author Matthias Becker and Peter Lockhart – Massey members of the New Zealand team whose work is helping to explain the evolutionary significance of hybridisation in nature.

( —Massey University researchers have the first convincing evidence that interbreeding between closely related species (hybridisation) can aid plants during periods of environmental change.

The new study shows that plants use hybridisation to alter genes to help them survive predators, pests and pathogens.

The New Zealand research, led by Professor Peter Lockhart at Massey University, is featured in the prestigious journal Nature Climate Change.

The team focused on the endemic genus Pachycladon, a New Zealand alpine herb and a model group for the study of plant radiation.

Professor Lockhart, of the Institute of Fundamental Sciences, says the research builds on decades of work that suggests rapid diversification and convergent morphological evolution within the New Zealand flora. A key question is whether hybridisation has been important in the evolution of . "Hybridisation was reported as a feature of the New Zealand flora in the 1930s but genetic evidence to establish the extent of its occurrence and significance has been slow to emerge," he says.

The team has been focusing on Pachycladon since receiving a Marsden Fund grant in 2005, developing novel analytical methodology and Illumina sequencing protocols that could provide objective evidence for hybridisation.

"This paper highlights the role of hybridisation in facilitating the survival of endemic species through periods of ," Professor Lockhart says. "We show that through hybridisation, species of Pachycladon have swapped and genetically altered variants of their pathogen/herbivore defence genes and we think that this process is likely to have helped species survive in a changing environment of predators, pests and pathogens."

The results have implications for national and international conservation efforts. "They highlight the need to preserve closely-related endemic species that can hybridise to maximise the genetic potential in ecological restoration projects."

Professor Lockhart says they also raise a flag of caution and appreciation of the evolutionary force of hybridisation that can also help invasive species acquire characteristics of endemics species, or properties that assist competition with endemic species, and colonisation of their habitats. The novel methodology developed by the researchers can now be applied to advance studies on the evolutionary ecology and physiology of any group of animals, plants or microbes within the New Zealand biota.

Explore further: Two species fused to give rise to plant pest

More information:

Related Stories

Help at hand to relocate threatened species

October 17, 2013

Australian and New Zealand scientists Thursday said they have devised the "first rigorous framework" on deciding whether to relocate endangered animals threatened with extinction by climate change.

Evolution of new species requires few genetic changes

October 31, 2013

Only a few genetic changes are needed to spur the evolution of new species—even if the original populations are still in contact and exchanging genes. Once started, however, evolutionary divergence evolves rapidly, ultimately ...

Recommended for you

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

Could 'The Day After Tomorrow' happen?

October 9, 2015

A researcher from the University of Southampton has produced a scientific study of the climate scenario featured in the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

Image: Sentinel-1A captures Azore islands

October 9, 2015

This Sentinel-1A radar image was processed to depict water in blue and land in earthen colours. It features some of the Azore islands about 1600 km west of Lisbon, including the turtle-shaped Faial, the dagger-like Sao Jorge ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.