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Open Access Research article

Testing a hypothesis of unidirectional hybridization in plants: Observations on Sonneratia, Bruguiera and Ligularia

Renchao Zhou1, Xun Gong2, David Boufford3, Chung-I Wu4 and Suhua Shi1*

Author Affiliations

1 State Key Laboratory of Biocontrol and Key Laboratory of Gene Engineering of the Ministry of Education, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510275, PR China

2 Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650204, PR China

3 Harvard University Herbaria, 22 Divinity Ave, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

4 Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:149  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-149

Published: 16 May 2008



When natural hybridization occurs at sites where the hybridizing species differ in abundance, the pollen load delivered to the rare species should be predominantly from the common species. Previous authors have therefore proposed a hypothesis on the direction of hybridization: interspecific hybrids are more likely to have the female parent from the rare species and the male parent from the common species. We wish to test this hypothesis using data of plant hybridizations both from our own experimentation and from the literature.


By examining the maternally inherited chloroplast DNA of 6 cases of F1 hybridization from four genera of plants, we infer unidirectional hybridization in most cases. In all 5 cases where the relative abundance of the parental species deviates from parity, however, the direction is predominantly in the direction opposite of the prediction based strictly on numerical abundance.


Our results show that the observed direction of hybridization is almost always opposite of the predicted direction based on the relative abundance of the hybridizing species. Several alternative hypotheses, including unidirectional postmating isolation and reinforcement of premating isolation, were discussed.