Hybridization speeds adaptive evolution in an eight-year field experiment




Mitchell, Nora
Owens, Gregory Lawrence
Hovick, Stephen M.
Rieseberg, Loren H.
Whitney, Kenneth D.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Scientific Reports


Hybridization is a common phenomenon, yet its evolutionary outcomes remain debated. Here, we ask whether hybridization can speed adaptive evolution using resynthesized hybrids between two species of Texas sunflowers (Helianthus annuus and H. debilis) that form a natural hybrid in the wild (H. annuus ssp. texanus). We established separate control and hybrid populations and allowed them to evolve naturally in a field evolutionary experiment. In a final common-garden, we measured fitness and a suite of key traits for these lineages. We show that hybrid fitness evolved in just seven generations, with fitness of the hybrid lines exceeding that of the controls by 14% and 51% by the end of the experiment, though only the latter represents a significant increase. More traits evolved significantly in hybrids relative to controls, and hybrid evolution was faster for most traits. Some traits in both hybrid and control lineages evolved in an adaptive manner consistent with the direction of phenotypic selection. These findings show a causal pathway from hybridization to rapid adaptation and suggest an explanation for the frequently noted association between hybridization and adaptive radiation, range expansion, and invasion.



Evolutionary ecology, Experimental evolution, Plant evolution


Mitchell, N., Owens, G. L., Hovick, S. M., Rieseberg, L. H., & Whitney, K. D. (2019). Hybridization speeds adaptive evolution in an eight-year field experiment. Science Reports, (9)6746, 43119-4. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-43119-4