Stress and domestication traits increase the relative fitness of crop-wild hybrids in sunflower

Kristin L. Mercer, David Andow, Donald L Wyse, Ruth G Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


After a decade of transgenic crop production, the dynamics of gene introgression into wild relatives remain unclear. Taking an ecological genetics approach to investigating fitness in crop-wild hybrid zones, we uncovered both conditions and characteristics that may promote introgression. We compared diverse crop-wild hybrid genotypes relative to wild Helianthus annuus under one benign and three stressful agricultural environments. Whereas relative fitness of crop-wild hybrids averaged 0.25 under benign conditions, with herbicide application or competition it reached 0.45 and was more variable. In some instances, hybrid fitness matched wild fitness (≈ 1). Thus, wild populations under agronomic stress may be more susceptible to introgression. Although 'domestication' traits are typically considered unlikely to persist in wild populations, we found some (e.g. rapid growth and early flowering) that may enhance hybrid fitness, especially in stressful environments. Rigorous assessment of how particular genotypes, phenotypes, and environments affect introgression will improve risk assessment for transgenic crops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-393
Number of pages11
JournalEcology letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Biosafety
  • Competition
  • Crop-wild hybrid
  • Domestication
  • G x E interactions
  • GM crops
  • Herbicide
  • Introgression
  • Relative fitness
  • Transgenes


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