Although invasive plant species often have a hybrid ancestry, unambiguous evidence that hybridization has stimulated the evolution of invasive behaviors has been difficult to come by. Here, we briefly review how hybridization might contribute to the colonization of novel habitats, range expansions, and invasiveness and then describe work on hybrid sunflowers that forges a direct link between hybridization and ecological divergence. We first discuss the invasion of Texas by the common sunflower and show that the introgression of chromosomal segments from a locally adapted species may have facilitated range expansion. We then present evidence that the colonization of sand dune, desert floor, and salt marsh habitats by three hybrid sunflower species was made possible by selection on extreme or "transgressive" phenotypes generated by hybridization. This body of work corroborates earlier claims regarding the role of hybridization in adaptive evolution and provides an experimental and conceptual framework for ongoing studies in this area.
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Acknowledgements The research on sunflower hybridization described here has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Agriculture. This contribution was an invited paper for the 2004 Society for the Study of Evolution Symposium ‘‘All Stressed Out and Nowhere to Go: Does Evolvability Limit Adaptation in Invasive Species?’’
- Range expansion