Background and Aims Differences in local abundance and ploidy level are predicted to impact the direction of introgression between species. Here, we tested these hypotheses on populations of Betula albosinensis (red birch) and Betula platyphylla (white birch) which were thought to differ in ploidy level, the former being tetraploid and the latter diploid.
Methods We sampled 391 birch individuals from nine localities in China, and classified them into species based on leaf morphology. Twelve nuclear microsatellite markers were genotyped in each sample, and analysed using principal coordinates analysis and STRUCTURE software. We compared the effects of two different methods of scoring polyploid genotypes on population genetic analyses. We analysed the effect of ploidy, local species abundance and latitude on levels of introgression between the species. Key Results Leaf morphology divided our samples into red and white birch, but genetic analyses unexpectedly revealed two groups within red birch, one of which was tetraploid, as expected, but the other of which appeared to have diploid microsatellite genotypes. Five individuals were identified as early-generation hybrids or backcrosses between white birch and red birch and five were identified between red birch and ‘diploid’ red birch. Cline analysis showed that levels of admixture were not significantly correlated with latitude. Estimated genetic differentiation among species was not significantly different between determined tetraploid and undetermined tetraploid genotypes. Conclusions Limited hybridization and gene flow have occurred between red birch and white birch. Relative species abundance and ploidy level do not impact the direction of introgression between them, as genetic admixture is roughly symmetrical. We unexpectedly found populations of apparently diploid red birch and this taxon may be a progenitor of allotetraploid red birch populations. Incomplete lineage sorting may explain patterns of genetic admixture between apparently diploid and allotetraploid red birch.
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