Reticulate hybridization is a complicated and creative mechanism in plant evolution that can cause interference in phylogenetic studies. Based on observations of intermediate morphology, low pollen fertility, and overlapping distributions of putative parent species, Yang and Wang (Proceedings of the cross-strait symposium on floristic diversity and conservation. National Museum of Natural Science, Taichung, Taiwan, pp 183-197, 1998) first proposed reticulate hybridization of Alpinia in Taiwan. In the present study, molecular tools were used to explore relationships between four parental species and their homoploidy hybrids, and the impact of hybridization on phylogeny reconstruction. Based on DNA markers, maternal heritance of the chloroplast genome, and additivity of nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer, the present results provide strong support for the hybridization hypothesis. Co-existence of parental ribotypes within hybrids revealed that these hybridization events were current, while reciprocal and introgressive hybridization were inferred from chloroplast DNA data. Furthermore, iterative hybridizations involving more than two parental species may occur in notorious hybrid zones. Ecological, phenological, and physiological evidence provides insight into why such frequent hybridization occurs in Taiwanese Alpinia. In the phylogenetic tree of the Zerumbet clade reconstructed in this study, the chloroplast sequences from one hybrid species were not grouped into a subclade, implying instability caused by hybridization. Failure to find morphological apomorphies and biogeographical patterns in this clade was likely partially due to reticulate hybridization.
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