J Syst Evol ›› 2021, Vol. 59 ›› Issue (1): 113-124.DOI: 10.1111/jse.12563

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Evidence of widespread hybridization among couch grasses (Elymus, Poaceae)

Romana Urfusová1,2 , Václav Mahelka2 , František Krahulec2 , and Tomáš Urfus1*   

  1. 1Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Charles University, Benátská 2, Prague CZ‐128 01, Czech Republic
    2Institute of Botany, Czech Academy of Sciences, Zámek 1, Prague CZ‐252 43, Czech Republic
  • Received:2019-05-29 Accepted:2019-12-30 Online:2020-01-02 Published:2021-01-01

Abstract: Hybridization, polyploidization, and crop‐to‐wild gene transfer within the agriculturally important tribe Triticeae are well explored experimentally, but the true consequences of both phenomena under natural conditions remain understudied. The present paper reports on an investigation of three species of couch grasses (Elymus hispidus, E. repens, and E. caninus) examining the ploidy levels and absolute genome sizes (1081 plants from 302 natural populations in Central Europe, verified by chromosome counts) and their morphological delimitation. In the present study, the hexaploid level prevailed in E. hispidus and E. repens whereas E. caninus was exclusively tetraploid. Introgressive hybridization between hexaploid species, unidirectionally shifted towards E. hispidus, was indicated by a continual pattern of genome size values. We did not find any evidence for heteroploid hybridization involving tetraploid E. caninus; however, we detected minority cytotypes among both E. caninus plants (hexaploid) and E. repens–E. hispidus hybrids (heptaploid and nonaploid) suggesting the formation of unreduced gametes. Morphometric results (367 plants, redundancy analysis, principal component analysis, and correlation analysis) mirrored the continual homoploid pattern of absolute genome size (including the unidirectional shift), and a significant correlation between absolute genome size and morphology was confirmed. Moreover, morphometric analyses detected additional characteristics for the delimitation of the Elymus taxa under study. Considering the crossability of E. hispidus with Triticum aestivum (bread wheat), the revealed extent of introgressive hybridization has implications for assessing the potential risk of gene flow between crops and troublesome weeds.

Key words: absolute genome size, couch grass, Elymus, hybridization, introgression, ploidy level, Thinopyrum