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Open Access Research article

Implications of hybridisation and cytotypic differentiation in speciation assessed by AFLP and plastid haplotypes - a case study of Potentilla alpicola La Soie

Juraj Paule12, Antonia Scherbantin3 and Christoph Dobeš3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biodiversity and Plant Systematics, Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) Heidelberg, Heidelberg University, Im Neuenheimer Feld 345, D–69120, Heidelberg, Germany

2 Department of Botany and Molecular Evolution, Senckenberg Research Institute, Senckenberganlage 25, D–60325, Frankfurt/Main, Germany

3 Department of Pharmacognosy, Pharmacobotany, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, A–1090, Vienna, Austria

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:132  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-132

Published: 1 August 2012



Hybridisation is presumed to be an important mechanism in plant speciation and a creative evolutionary force often accompanied by polyploidisation and in some cases by apomixis. The Potentilla collina group constitutes a particularly suitable model system to study these phenomena as it is morphologically extensively variable, exclusively polyploid and expresses apomixis. In the present study, the alpine taxon Potentilla alpicola has been chosen in order to study its presumed hybrid origin, identify underlying evolutionary processes and infer the discreteness or taxonomic value of hybrid forms.


Combined analysis of AFLP, cpDNA sequences and ploidy level variation revealed a hybrid origin of the P. alpicola populations from South Tyrol (Italy) resulting from crosses between P. pusilla and two cytotypes of P. argentea. Hybrids were locally sympatric with at least one of the parental forms. Three lineages of different evolutionary origin comprising two ploidy levels were identified within P. alpicola. The lineages differed in parentage and the complexity of the evolutionary process. A geographically wide-spread lineage thus contrasted with locally distributed lineages of different origins. Populations of P. collina studied in addition, have been regarded rather as recent derivatives of the hexaploid P. argentea. The observation of clones within both P. alpicola and P. collina suggested a possible apomictic mode of reproduction.


Different hybridisation scenarios taking place on geographically small scales resulted in viable progeny presumably stabilised by apomixis. The case study of P. alpicola supports that these processes played a significant role in the creation of polymorphism in the genus Potentilla. However, multiple origin of hybrids and backcrossing are considered to produce a variety of evolutionary spontaneous forms existing aside of reproductively stabilised, established lineages.

AFLP; Apomixis; cpDNA; Hybridisation; Introgression; Polyploidy; Reproduction mode; Potentilla; Rosaceae