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1.  Diversity and endemism in deglaciated areas: ploidy, relative genome size and niche differentiation in the Galium pusillum complex (Rubiaceae) in Northern and Central Europe 
Annals of Botany  2013;111(6):1095-1108.
Background and Aims
Plants endemic to areas covered by ice sheets during the last glaciation represent paradigmatic examples of rapid speciation in changing environments, yet very few systems outside the harsh arctic zone have been comprehensively investigated so far. The Galium pusillum aggregate (Rubiaceae) is a challenging species complex that exhibits a marked differentiation in boreal parts of Northern Europe. As a first step towards understanding its evolutionary history in deglaciated regions, this study assesses cytological variation and ecological preferences of the northern endemics and compares the results with corresponding data for species occurring in neighbouring unglaciated parts of Central and Western Europe.
DNA flow cytometry was used together with confirmatory chromosome counts to determine ploidy levels and relative genome sizes in 1158 individuals from 181 populations. A formalized analysis of habitat preferences was applied to explore niche differentiation among species and ploidy levels.
Key Results
The G. pusillum complex evolved at diploid and tetraploid levels in Northern Europe, in contrast to the high-polyploid evolution of most other northern endemics. A high level of eco-geographic segregation was observed between different species (particularly along gradients of soil pH and competition) which is unusual for plants in deglaciated areas and most probably contributes to maintaining species integrity. Relative monoploid DNA contents of the species from previously glaciated regions were significantly lower than those of their counterparts from mostly unglaciated Central Europe, suggesting independent evolutionary histories.
The aggregate of G. pusillum in Northern Europe represents an exceptional case with a geographically vicariant and ecologically distinct diploid/tetraploid species endemic to formerly glaciated areas. The high level of interspecific differentiation substantially widens our perception of the evolutionary dynamics and speciation rates in the dramatically changing environments of Northern Europe.
PMCID: PMC3662515  PMID: 23589633
Endemism; environmental change; polyploid evolution; flow cytometry; genome size; glaciation; niche differentiation; ploidy level
2.  High ploidy diversity and distinct patterns of cytotype distribution in a widespread species of Oxalis in the Greater Cape Floristic Region 
Annals of Botany  2013;111(4):641-649.
Background and Aims
Genome duplication is widely acknowledged as a major force in the evolution of angiosperms, although the incidence of polyploidy in different floras may differ dramatically. The Greater Cape Floristic Region of southern Africa is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots and is considered depauperate in polyploids. To test this assumption, ploidy variation was assessed in a widespread member of the largest geophytic genus in the Cape flora: Oxalis obtusa.
DNA flow cytometry complemented by confirmatory chromosome counts was used to determine ploidy levels in 355 populations of O. obtusa (1014 individuals) across its entire distribution range. Ecological differentiation among cytotypes was tested by comparing sets of vegetation and climatic variables extracted for each locality.
Key Results
Three majority (2x, 4x, 6x) and three minority (3x, 5x, 8x) cytotypes were detected in situ, in addition to a heptaploid individual originating from a botanical garden. While single-cytotype populations predominate, 12 mixed-ploidy populations were also found. The overall pattern of ploidy level distribution is quite complex, but some ecological segregation was observed. Hexaploids are the most common cytotype and prevail in the Fynbos biome. In contrast, tetraploids dominate in the Succulent Karoo biome. Precipitation parameters were identified as the most important climatic variables associated with cytotype distribution.
Although it would be premature to make generalizations regarding the role of genome duplication in the genesis of hyperdiversity of the Cape flora, the substantial and unexpected ploidy diversity in Oxalis obtusa is unparalleled in comparison with any other cytologically known native Cape plant species. The results suggest that ploidy variation in the Greater Cape Floristic Region may be much greater than currently assumed, which, given the documented role of polyploidy in speciation, has direct implications for radiation hypotheses in this biodiversity hotspot.
PMCID: PMC3605962  PMID: 23425783
Cape Floristic Region; cytogeography; flow cytometry; Fynbos; Oxalis obtusa; polyploidy; Succulent Karoo; vegetation
3.  Ecological effects of cell-level processes: genome size, functional traits and regional abundance of herbaceous plant species 
Annals of Botany  2012;110(7):1357-1367.
Background and Aims
Genome size is known to be correlated with a number of phenotypic traits associated with cell sizes and cell-division rates. Genome size was therefore used as a proxy for them in order to assess how common plant traits such as height, specific leaf area and seed size/number predict species regional abundance. In this study it is hypothesized that if there is residual correlation between genome size and abundance after these traits are partialled out, there must be additional ecological effects of cell size and/or cell-division rate.
Variation in genome size, plant traits and regional abundance were examined in 436 herbaceous species of central European flora, and relationships were sought for among these variables by correlation and path analysis.
Key Results
Species regional abundance was weakly but significantly correlated with genome size; the relationship was stronger for annuals (R2 = 0·145) than for perennials (R2 = 0·027). In annuals, genome size was linked to abundance via its effect on seed size, which constrains seed number and hence population growth rate. In perennials, it weakly affected (via height and specific leaf area) competitive ability. These relationships did not change qualitatively after phylogenetic correction. In both annuals and perennials there was an unresolved effect of genome size on abundance.
The findings indicate that additional predictors of regional abundance should be sought among variables that are linked to cell size and cell-division rate. Signals of these cell-level processes remain identifiable even at the landscape scale, and show deep differences between perennials and annuals. Plant population biology could thus possibly benefit from more systematic use of indicators of cell-level processes.
PMCID: PMC3489144  PMID: 22628380
Annuals; C-value; functional traits; genome size; LEDA traitbase; native herbaceous plant species; path analysis; phylogenetic correction; perennials
4.  Minority cytotypes in European populations of the Gymnadenia conopsea complex (Orchidaceae) greatly increase intraspecific and intrapopulation diversity 
Annals of Botany  2012;110(5):977-986.
Background and Aims
Patterns of ploidy variation among and within populations can provide valuable insights into the evolutionary mechanisms shaping the dynamics of plant systems showing ploidy diversity. Whereas data on majority ploidies are, by definition, often sufficiently extensive, much less is known about the incidence and evolutionary role of minority cytotypes.
Ploidy and proportions of endoreplicated genome were determined using DAPI (4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole) flow cytometry in 6150 Gymnadenia plants (fragrant orchids) collected from 141 populations in 17 European countries. All widely recognized European species, and several taxa of less certain taxonomic status were sampled within Gymnadenia conopsea sensu lato.
Key Results
Most Gymnadenia populations were taxonomically and/or ploidy heterogeneous. Two majority (2x and 4x) and three minority (3x, 5x and 6x) cytotypes were identified. Evolution largely proceeded at the diploid level, whereas tetraploids were much more geographically and taxonomically restricted. Although minority ploidies constituted <2 % of the individuals sampled, they were found in 35 % of populations across the entire area investigated. The amount of nuclear DNA, together with the level of progressively partial endoreplication, separated all Gymnadenia species currently widely recognized in Europe.
Despite their low frequency, minority cytotypes substantially increase intraspecific and intrapopulation ploidy diversity estimates for fragrant orchids. The cytogenetic structure of Gymnadenia populations is remarkably dynamic and shaped by multiple evolutionary mechanisms, including both the ongoing production of unreduced gametes and heteroploid hybridization. Overall, it is likely that the level of ploidy heterogeneity experienced by most plant species/populations is currently underestimated; intensive sampling is necessary to obtain a holistic picture.
PMCID: PMC3448425  PMID: 23002267
Coexistence; contact zone; cytogeography; flow cytometry; fragrant orchid; Gymnadenia; Orchidaceae; hybridization; mixed-ploidy population; polyploidy; sympatry; unreduced gametes
5.  The more the better? The role of polyploidy in facilitating plant invasions 
Annals of Botany  2011;109(1):19-45.
Biological invasions are a major ecological and socio-economic problem in many parts of the world. Despite an explosion of research in recent decades, much remains to be understood about why some species become invasive whereas others do not. Recently, polyploidy (whole genome duplication) has been proposed as an important determinant of invasiveness in plants. Genome duplication has played a major role in plant evolution and can drastically alter a plant's genetic make-up, morphology, physiology and ecology within only one or a few generations. This may allow some polyploids to succeed in strongly fluctuating environments and/or effectively colonize new habitats and, thus, increase their potential to be invasive.
We synthesize current knowledge on the importance of polyploidy for the invasion (i.e. spread) of introduced plants. We first aim to elucidate general mechanisms that are involved in the success of polyploid plants and translate this to that of plant invaders. Secondly, we provide an overview of ploidal levels in selected invasive alien plants and explain how ploidy might have contributed to their success.
Polyploidy can be an important factor in species invasion success through a combination of (1) ‘pre-adaptation’, whereby polyploid lineages are predisposed to conditions in the new range and, therefore, have higher survival rates and fitness in the earliest establishment phase; and (2) the possibility for subsequent adaptation due to a larger genetic diversity that may assist the ‘evolution of invasiveness’. Alternatively, polyploidization may play an important role by (3) restoring sexual reproduction following hybridization or, conversely, (4) asexual reproduction in the absence of suitable mates. We, therefore, encourage invasion biologists to incorporate assessments of ploidy in their studies of invasive alien species.
PMCID: PMC3241594  PMID: 22040744
Biological invasions; genome size; invasiveness; invasion ecology; polyploidy; whole genome duplication
6.  Remarkable coexistence of multiple cytotypes of the Gymnadenia conopsea aggregate (the fragrant orchid): evidence from flow cytometry 
Annals of Botany  2010;107(1):77-87.
Background and Aims
One of the prerequisites for polyploid research in natural systems is knowledge of the geographical distribution of cytotypes. Here inter- and intrapopulational ploidy diversity was examined in the Gymnadenia conopsea aggregate in central Europe and potential explanations and evolutionary consequences of the observed spatial patterns investigated.
DAPI flow cytometry supplemented by confirmatory chromosome counts was used to determine ploidy in 3581 samples of the G. conopsea aggregate from 43 populations. The fine-scale spatial pattern of cytotype distribution (intra- and interploidy associations) was analysed with univariate and bivariate K-functions.
Key Results
Gymnadenia tissues undergo a progressively partial endoreplication, which accounts for about 60 % and 75 % of the total genome in G. conopsea and G. densiflora, respectively. Flow cytometric profiles are therefore species-specific and can be used as a marker for rapid and reliable species recognition. Two majority (4x, 8x) and three minority (6x, 10x, 12x) cytotypes were found, often in mixed-ploidy populations (harbouring up to all five different ploidy levels). The scarcity of the minority cytotypes (about 2·7 %) suggests the existence of strong pre- or postzygotic mating barriers. Spatial structure was observed in plots of populations with the highest cytotype variation, including clumping of individuals of the same ploidy and negative association between tetra- and octoploids.
The remarkable ploidy coexistence in the G. conopsea aggregate has reshaped our perception of intrapopulational ploidy diversity under natural conditions. This system offers unique opportunities for studying processes governing the formation and establishment of polyploids and assessing the evolutionary significance of the various pre- and postzygotic mating barriers that maintain this ploidy mixture.
PMCID: PMC3002475  PMID: 21059612
Coexistence; contact zone; cytotype mixture; flow cytometry; Gymnadenia conopsea; hybridization; mating barriers; polyploidy; progressively partial endoreplication; spatial distribution; sympatry
7.  Apomixis is not prevalent in subnival to nival plants of the European Alps 
Annals of Botany  2011;108(2):381-390.
Background and Aims
High alpine environments are characterized by short growing seasons, stochastic climatic conditions and fluctuating pollinator visits. These conditions are rather unfavourable for sexual reproduction of flowering plants. Apomixis, asexual reproduction via seed, provides reproductive assurance without the need of pollinators and potentially accelerates seed development. Therefore, apomixis is expected to provide selective advantages in high-alpine biota. Indeed, apomictic species occur frequently in the subalpine to alpine grassland zone of the European Alps, but the mode of reproduction of the subnival to nival flora was largely unknown.
The mode of reproduction in 14 species belonging to seven families was investigated via flow cytometric seed screen. The sampling comprised 12 species typical for nival to subnival plant communities of the European Alps without any previous information on apomixis (Achillea atrata, Androsace alpina, Arabis caerulea, Erigeron uniflorus, Gnaphalium hoppeanum, Leucanthemopsis alpina, Oxyria digyna, Potentilla frigida, Ranunculus alpestris, R. glacialis, R. pygmaeus and Saxifraga bryoides), and two high-alpine species with apomixis reported from other geographical areas (Leontopodium alpinum and Potentilla crantzii).
Key Results
Flow cytometric data were clearly interpretable for all 46 population samples, confirming the utility of the method for broad screenings on non-model organisms. Formation of endosperm in all species of Asteraceae was documented. Ratios of endosperm : embryo showed pseudogamous apomixis for Potentilla crantzii (ratio approx. 3), but sexual reproduction for all other species (ratios approx. 1·5).
The occurrence of apomixis is not correlated to high altitudes, and cannot be readily explained by selective forces due to environmental conditions. The investigated species have probably other adaptations to high altitudes to maintain reproductive assurance via sexuality. We hypothesize that shifts to apomixis are rather connected to frequencies of polyploidization than to ecological conditions.
PMCID: PMC3143052  PMID: 21724654
Apomixis; European Alps; endosperm; flow cytometric seed screen; high-altitude plants; polyploidy; sexual reproduction
8.  Distribution and habitat segregation on different spatial scales among diploid, tetraploid and hexaploid cytotypes of Senecio carniolicus (Asteraceae) in the Eastern Alps 
Annals of Botany  2010;106(6):967-977.
Background and Aims
The spatial distribution of cytotypes can provide valuable insights into evolutionary patterns of polyploid complexes. In a previous study the macro-scale distribution of the three main cytotypes in Senecio carniolicus (Asteraceae) within the Eastern Alps was characterized. Employing a roughly 12-fold extended sampling, the present study focuses on unravelling patterns of cytotype distribution on the meso- and microscale and on correlating those with ecological properties of the growing sites.
DAPI flow cytometry of dried samples was used to determine DNA ploidy level in 5033 individuals from 100 populations spread over the entire Eastern Alpine distribution area of S. carniolicus. Descriptors of microhabitats as well as spatial data were recorded in the field, and analysed with a mixed-effects ANOVA.
Key Results
Extensive variation in DNA ploidy levels (2x, 3x, 4x, 5x, 6x, 7x, 8x, 9x) was detected. Of the main cytotypes, diploids and hexaploids were widespread and had strongly overlapping distributions resulting in the frequent occurrence of cytotype mixtures (half of the investigated populations), whereas tetraploids were disjunctly distributed and occurred in the south-west and the east of the species' distribution area. In spite of the frequent co-occurrence of cytotypes, only 1 % of the samples belonged to secondary cytotypes (3x, 5x, 7x, 8x, 9x). Diploids, tetraploids and hexaploids were altitudinally segregated, but with broad overlap. Similarly, highly significant differences in vegetation and rock cover as well as microhabitat exposure were found between the main cytotypes.
Senecio carniolicus shows a remarkable diversity of cytotypes. The distribution of the three main cytotypes (2x, 4x, 6x) has been shaped by Pleistocene glaciations to different extents. Whereas tetraploids are nearly entirely restricted to refugia, hexaploids colonized areas that were extensively glaciated. Diploid and hexaploid individuals often co-occur in mixed populations, where they are spatially and ecologically segregated at both the meso-scale (altitudinal differentiation, exposure of the growing site) and the micro-scale (cover of vegetation and bare rock). With regard to the ecological parameters investigated, the tetraploid cytotype occupies an intermediate position. The rareness of secondary cytotypes suggests the presence of strong pre- or post-zygotic mating barriers.
PMCID: PMC2990664  PMID: 20880930
Contact zones; cytotype mixture; Eastern Alps; flow cytometry; habitat segregation; ploidy level; polyploidy; refugia; Senecio carniolicus
9.  Towards resolving the Knautia arvensis agg. (Dipsacaceae) puzzle: primary and secondary contact zones and ploidy segregation at landscape and microgeographic scales 
Annals of Botany  2009;103(6):963-974.
Background and Aims
Detailed knowledge of variations in ploidy levels and their geographic distributions is one of the key tasks faced in polyploid research in natural systems. Flow cytometry has greatly facilitated the field of cytogeography by allowing characterization of ploidy levels at both the regional and population scale, and at multiple stages of the life cycle. In the present study, flow cytometry was employed to investigate the patterns and dynamics of ploidy variation in the taxonomically challenging complex Knautia arvensis (Dipsacaceae) and some of its allies (K. dipsacifolia, K. slovaca) in Central Europe.
DNA ploidy levels were estimated by DAPI flow cytometry in 5205 adult plants, 228 seedlings and 400 seeds collected from 292 Knautia populations in seven European countries. The flow cytometric data were supplemented with conventional chromosome counts. A subset of 79 accessions was subjected to estimation of the absolute genome size using propidium iodide flow cytometry.
Key Results and Conclusions
Five different ploidy levels (from 2x to 6x) were found, with triploids of K. arvensis being recorded for the first time. The species also exhibited variation in the monoploid genome size, corresponding to the types of habitats occupied (grassland diploid populations had larger genome sizes than relict and subalpine diploid populations). Disregarding relict populations, the distribution of 2x and 4x cytotypes was largely parapatric, with a diffuse secondary contact zone running along the north-west margin of the Pannonian basin. Spatial segregation of the cytotypes was also observed on regional and microgeographic scales. The newly detected sympatric growth of diploids and tetraploids in isolated relict habitats most likely represents the primary zone of cytotype contact. Ploidy level was found to be a major determinant of the strength of inter-cytotype reproductive barriers. While mixed 2x + 4x populations virtually lacked the intermediate ploidy level at any ontogenetic stage, pentaploid hybrids were common in 4x +6x populations, despite the cytotypes representing different taxonomic entities.
PMCID: PMC2707883  PMID: 19196717
Contact zone; cytogeography; flow cytometry; genome size; hybridization; Knautia arvensis; ploidy mixture; polyploidy; relict; reproductive isolation; serpentine
10.  Genome Size Variation and Species Relationships in Hieracium Sub-genus Pilosella (Asteraceae) as Inferred by Flow Cytometry 
Annals of Botany  2007;100(6):1323-1335.
Background and Aims
Hieracium sub-genus Pilosella (hawkweeds) is a taxonomically complicated group of vascular plants, the structure of which is substantially influenced by frequent interspecific hybridization and polyploidization. Two kinds of species, ‘basic’ and ‘intermediate’ (i.e. hybridogenous), are usually recognized. In this study, genome size variation was investigated in a representative set of Central European hawkweeds in order to assess the value of such a data set for species delineation and inference of evolutionary relationships.
Holoploid and monoploid genome sizes (C- and Cx-values) were determined using propidium iodide flow cytometry for 376 homogeneously cultivated individuals of Hieracium sub-genus Pilosella, including 24 species (271 individuals), five recent natural hybrids (seven individuals) and experimental F1 hybrids from four parental combinations (98 individuals). Chromosome counts were available for more than half of the plant accessions. Base composition (proportion of AT/GC bases) was cytometrically estimated in 73 individuals.
Key Results
Seven different ploidy levels (2x–8x) were detected, with intraspecific ploidy polymorphism (up to four different cytotypes) occurring in 11 wild species. Mean 2C-values varied approx. 4·3-fold from 3·53 pg in diploid H. hoppeanum to 15·30 pg in octoploid H. brachiatum. 1Cx-values ranged from 1·72 pg in H. pilosella to 2·16 pg in H. echioides (1·26-fold). The DNA content of (high) polyploids was usually proportional to the DNA values of their diploid/low polyploid counterparts, indicating lack of processes altering genome size (i.e. genome down-sizing). Most species showed constant nuclear DNA amounts, exceptions being three hybridogenous taxa, in which introgressive hybridization was suggested as a presumable trigger for genome size variation. Monoploid genome sizes of hybridogenous species were always between the corresponding values of their putative parents. In addition, there was a good congruency between actual DNA estimates and theoretical values inferred from putative parental combinations and between DNA values of experimental F1 hybrids and corresponding established hybridogenous taxa.
Significant differences in genome size between hawkweed species from hybridogenous lineages involving the small-genome H. pilosella document the usefulness of nuclear DNA content as a supportive marker for reliable delineation of several of the most problematic taxa in Hieracium sub-genus Pilosella (including classification of borderline morphotypes). In addition, genome size data were shown to have a good predictive value for inferring evolutionary relationships and genome constitution (i.e. putative parental combinations) in hybridogenous species.
PMCID: PMC2759259  PMID: 17921526
Agamic complex; AT/GC base ratio; DNA C-value; flow cytometry; genome composition; genome size; hawkweeds; Hieracium sub-genus Pilosella; hybridization; nuclear DNA content; polyploidy; taxonomy
11.  Chromosome Numbers and Genome Size Variation in Indian Species of Curcuma (Zingiberaceae) 
Annals of Botany  2007;100(3):505-526.
Background and Aims
Genome size and chromosome numbers are important cytological characters that significantly influence various organismal traits. However, geographical representation of these data is seriously unbalanced, with tropical and subtropical regions being largely neglected. In the present study, an investigation was made of chromosomal and genome size variation in the majority of Curcuma species from the Indian subcontinent, and an assessment was made of the value of these data for taxonomic purposes.
Genome size of 161 homogeneously cultivated plant samples classified into 51 taxonomic entities was determined by propidium iodide flow cytometry. Chromosome numbers were counted in actively growing root tips using conventional rapid squash techniques.
Key Results
Six different chromosome counts (2n = 22, 42, 63, >70, 77 and 105) were found, the last two representing new generic records. The 2C-values varied from 1·66 pg in C. vamana to 4·76 pg in C. oligantha, representing a 2·87-fold range. Three groups of taxa with significantly different homoploid genome sizes (Cx-values) and distinct geographical distribution were identified. Five species exhibited intraspecific variation in nuclear DNA content, reaching up to 15·1 % in cultivated C. longa. Chromosome counts and genome sizes of three Curcuma-like species (Hitchenia caulina, Kaempferia scaposa and Paracautleya bhatii) corresponded well with typical hexaploid (2n = 6x = 42) Curcuma spp.
The basic chromosome number in the majority of Indian taxa (belonging to subgenus Curcuma) is x = 7; published counts correspond to 6x, 9x, 11x, 12x and 15x ploidy levels. Only a few species-specific C-values were found, but karyological and/or flow cytometric data may support taxonomic decisions in some species alliances with morphological similarities. Close evolutionary relationships among some cytotypes are suggested based on the similarity in homoploid genome sizes and geographical grouping. A new species combination, Curcuma scaposa (Nimmo) Škorničk. & M. Sabu, comb. nov., is proposed.
PMCID: PMC2533610  PMID: 17686760
Chromosome number; Curcuma; cytology; DNA C-value; flow cytometry; genome size; India; intraspecific variation; polyploidy; taxonomy

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