Molecular, morphological, and ecological niche differentiation of sympatric sister oak species, Quercus virginiana and Q. geminata (Fagaceae)

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2009
Authors:J. Cavender-Bares, Pahlich A.
Journal:American Journal of Botany
Date Published:2009

The genus Quercus (the oaks) is notorious for interspecific hybrization, generating questions about the mechanisms that permit coexistence of closely related species. Two sister oak species, Quercus virginiana and Q. geminata, occur in sympatry in Florida and throughout the southeastern United States. In 11 sites from northern and southeastern regions of Florida, we used a leaf-based morphological index to identify individuals to species. Eleven nuclear microsatellite markers significantly differentiated between the species with a high correspondence between molecular and morphological typing of specimens. Nevertheless, Bayesian clustering analysis indicates interspecific gene flow, and six of 109 individuals had mixed ancestry. The identity of several individuals also was mismatched using molecular markers and morphological characters. In a common environment, the two species performed differently in terms of photosynthetic performance and growth, corresponding to their divergent ecological niches with respect to soil moisture and other edaphic properties. Our data support earlier hypotheses that divergence in flowering time causes assortative mating, allowing these ecologically distinct sister species to occur in sympatry. Limited gene flow that permits ecological differentiation helps to explain the overdispersion of oak species in local communities.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith