Differences in local abundance and ploidy level are predicted to impact the direction of introgression between species. Hu et al. test these hypotheses on Chinese populations of Betula albosinensis (red birch, Betulaceae, a tetraploid) and B. platyphylla (white birch, a diploid).
Leaf morphology divided our samples into red and white birch, but genetic analyses unexpectedly revealed two groups within red birch, one of which was tetraploid, as expected, but the other of which appeared to have diploid microsatellite genotypes. Five individuals were identified as early-generation hybrids or backcrosses between white birch and red birch and five were identified between red birch and ‘diploid’ red birch. Cline analysis showed that levels of admixture were not significantly correlated with latitude. Estimated genetic differentiation among species was not significantly different between determined tetraploid and undetermined tetraploid genotypes.
Limited hybridization and gene flow have occurred between red birch and white birch. Relative species abundance and ploidy level do not impact the direction of introgression between them, as genetic admixture is roughly symmetrical. The authors unexpectedly found populations of apparently diploid red birch and this taxon may be a progenitor of allotetraploid red birch populations. Incomplete lineage sorting may explain patterns of genetic admixture between apparently diploid and allotetraploid red birch.