Hybridization and diversification in island plants

Capitula of the two parents, Tolpis coronopifolia (left), T. santosii (right) and their F1 hybrid (middle). This hybrid combination was used to generate later generation hybrids studied in this paper. Photo by J. K. Archibald.

Islands contain some of the most remarkable yet imperiled plants anywhere on Earth. Despite remarkable ecological/morphological diversity, insular endemics often retain the ability to hybridize and produce vigorous, fertile progeny. In a recent study published in AoB PLANTS, Kerbs et al. analysed several generations of synthetic interspecific hybrids between two species endemic to the Canary Islands and found that gene exchange between species can produce novel traits, transgressive phenotypes and novel combinations of features not seen in their parents. The results of their study provide experimental evidence of the potential of hybridization to promote diversification and possibly generate stabilized hybrid derivatives in plants in an oceanic archipelago.