Polyploidy and hybridization are thought to have significant impacts on both the evolution and diversification of the genus Actinidia, but the structure and patterns of morphology and molecular diversity relating to ploidy variation of wild Actinidia plants remain much less understood. Here, we examine the distribution of morphological variation and ploidy levels along geographic and environmental variables of a large mixed-ploidy population of the A. chinensis species complex. We then characterize the extent of both genetic and epigenetic diversity and differentiation exhibited between individuals of different ploidy levels. Our results showed that while there are three ploidy levels in this population, hexaploids were constituted the majority (70.3%). Individuals with different ploidy levels were microgeographically structured in relation to elevation and extent of niche disturbance. The morphological characters examined revealed clear difference between diploids and hexaploids, however tetraploids exhibited intermediate forms. Both genetic and epigenetic diversity were high but the differentiation among cytotypes was weak, suggesting extensive gene flow and/or shared ancestral variation occurred in this population even across ploidy levels. Epigenetic variation was clearly correlated with changes in altitudes, a trend of continuous genetic variation and gradual increase of epigenomic heterogeneities of individuals was also observed. Our results show that complex interactions between the locally microgeographical environment, ploidy and gene flow impact A. chinensis genetic and epigenetic variation. We posit that an increase in ploidy does not broaden the species habitat range, but rather permits A. chinensis adaptation to specific niches.
Liu, Y., Li, D., Yan, L., & Huang, H. (2015). The microgeographical patterns of morphological and molecular variation of a mixed ploidy population in the species complex Actinidia chinensis. PLoS ONE, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0117596