We examined how plant traits related to growth and resource use have evolved during hybrid speciation and specialization into stressful habitats. Two desert sunflower species of homoploid hybrid origin are endemic to habitats with lower soil nutrient levels than those of their ancestral parent species. We hypothesized that the hybrid species would exhibit greater tolerance to low levels of soil nutrients than their parental species. The 2 hybrid species, Helianthus anomalus and H. deserticola, and their parental species, H. annuus and H. petiolaris, were compared for plant traits and growth through reproduction under 3 nutrient levels in a greenhouse study. An additional seedling study compared species for maximum seedling relative growth rate under optimum conditions. The hybrid species did have greater tolerance of nutrient limitation than the parental species, demonstrated by a resistance to change in stem height and diameter growth across treatments. A similar trend was observed in total biomass at final harvest. This ability to maintain growth may be partially explained by maintained investment in photosynthetic enzymes regardless of nutrient treatment. Though the hybrid species were more tolerant of nutrient stress, differences in the hybrid response to nutrient stress compared to the parental species' response were much smaller than expected from habitat comparisons. Helianthus anomalus has evolved a classic stress-tolerant phenotype, having long leaf lifespan, tough leaves, and slower early seedling relative growth rate. While both hybrid species have a conservative growth strategy, which confers greater stress tolerance than the parental species possess, functional trait differences among the hybrids suggest that the 2 species have experienced vastly different selective pressures.
Brouillette, Larry C.; Gebremedhin, Maheteme; Rosenthal, David M.; and Donovan, Lisa A.
"Testing hypothesized evolutionary shifts toward stress tolerance in hybrid Helianthus species,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 66
, Article 1.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol66/iss4/1