Cottonwood hybrids gain fitness traits of both parents: A mechanism for their long-term persistence?

Jennifer A. Schweitzer, Gregory D. Martinsen, Thomas G. Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Using surveys of natural populations, experimental crosses, and common garden trials, we tested the hypothesis that hybrid cottonwoods (Populus fremontii x P. angustifolia) from the Weber River in northern Utah would produce as many viable offspring as their parental species. We found that both F1 generations and backcross generations can be just as fit as the parent taxa. First, F1 hybrids produced as many viable seed as P. angustifolia (but less than P. fremontii), and backcross genotypes produced as many viable seeds as both parent taxa. Second, hybrids produced nearly two times as many ramets from root sprouts as P. angustifolia and four times as many ramets as P. fremontii. Third, the high mortality of germinated seedlings of all tree types (i.e., >90%) and very low mortality of asexually derived tamers provide hybrids with equal sexual reproduction and enhanced asexual reproduction, especially since backcross hybrids exhibit transgressive segregation in ramet production. Our findings suggest that the introgression of P. fremontii seed traits into the hybrid genome is responsible for their equivalent performance (at least to one parent) in sexual reproduction, while the contributions of asexual traits from P. angustifola results in hybrids having equal or greater fitness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)981-990
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2002


  • Hybrid fitness
  • Introgression
  • Populus
  • Ramets
  • Seed viability
  • Sexual and asexual reproduction
  • Transgressive segregation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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