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Research article2023Peer reviewed

Floral scent divergence across an elevational hybrid zone with varying pollinators

Garcia, Yedra; Ostevik, Kate L.; Anderson, Joseph; Rausher, Mark D.; Parachnowitsch, Amy L.


Divergence in floral traits attractive to different pollinators can promote reproductive isolation in related species. When isolation is incomplete, hybridization may occur, which offers the opportunity to explore mechanisms underlying reproductive isolation. Recent work suggests that divergence in floral scent may frequently contribute to reproductive barriers, although such divergence has seldom been examined in species with generalized pollination. Here, we used two closely related Penstemon species, P. newberryi and P. davidsonii, and their natural hybrids from an elevational gradient with pollinator communities that are predicted to vary in their reliance on floral scent (i.e., primarily hummingbirds at low elevation vs. bees at high elevation). The species vary in a suite of floral traits, but scent is uncharacterized. To address whether scent varies along elevation and potentially contributes to reproductive isolation, we genetically characterized individuals collected at field and identified whether they were parental species or hybrids. We then characterized scent amount and composition. Although the parental species had similar total emissions, some scent characteristics (i.e., scent composition, aromatic emission) diverged between them and may contribute to their isolation. However, the species emitted similar compound sets which could explain hybridization in the contact area. Hybrids were similar to the parents for most scent traits, suggesting that their floral scent would not provide a strong barrier to backcrossing. Our study suggests floral scent may be a trait contributing to species boundaries even in plants with generalized pollination, and reinforces the idea that evolutionary pollinator transitions may involve changes in multiple floral traits.


Fragrance; Hybridization; Penstemon; Reproductive isolation; Volatile compounds

Published in

2023, Volume: 201, number: 1, pages: 45-57
Publisher: SPRINGER