Persistence, dispersal and genetic evolution of recently formed Spartina homoploid hybrids and allopolyploids in Southern England
In Southampton Water, UK, the recent (c. 150 years ago) interspecific hybridisation between Spartina alterniflora (2n = 6x = 62; A-genome) and S. maritima (2n = 6x = 60; M-genome) gave rise to the homoploid hybrid (S. x townsendii, 2n = 6x = 62), and subsequently to the invasive allododecaploid species S. anglica (2n = 12x = 120-124) that has since spread worldwide. To address the question of dynamics of mixed ploidy populations involving these plants, we analysed several Spartina populations (fifty one individuals) in Southern England, UK, one of which was the presumed place of origin of the homoploid hybrid (Hythe). Using a combination of flow cytometry and ribosomal DNA (rDNA) genotyping we were able to identify the genomic composition and ploidy level of each individual analysed. The data show that the homoploid hybrid still dominates the population at Hythe (82 % of individuals collected in that locality) since its origin in the nineteenth century. We also identified S. x townsendii for the first time on Hayling Island (66 % individuals), indicating dispersal beyond its likely origin. The fertile allododecaploid S. anglica was mainly found in populations outside the initial hybridisation site, on Hayling Island and at Eling Marchwood. Quantification of the rDNA contributions from each parental genome showed that the ratios were mostly balanced in S. x townsendii. However, two (3 %) S. anglica individuals analysed have lost nearly all M-genome homeologs, indicating extensive repeat loss. Such variation indicates that despite the presumed single allopolyploid origin of S. anglica and genetic uniformity at other loci, it has undergone substantial changes at the rDNA loci following genome duplication.