Genetic incompatibilities and low offspring fitness are characteristic outcomes of hybridization between species. Yet, the creative potential of recombination following hybridization continues to be debated. Here we quantify the outcome of hybridization and recombination between adaptively divergent populations of the North American legume Chamaecrista fasciculata in a large-scale field experiment. Previously, hybrids between these populations demonstrated hybrid breakdown, suggesting the expression of adaptive epistatic interactions underlying population genetic differentiation. However, the outcome of hybridization ultimately rests on the performance of even later generation recombinants. In experiments that compared the performance of recombinant F6 and F2 generations with nonrecombinant F1 and parental genotypes, we observed that increasing recombination had contrasting effects on different life-history components. Lifetime fitness, defined as the product of survivorship and reproduction, showed a strong recovery of fitness in the F6. The overall gain in fitness with increased recombination suggests that hybridization and recombination may provide the necessary genetic variation for adaptive evolution within species. We discuss the mechanisms that may account for the gain in fitness with recombination, and explore the implications for hybrid speciation and phenotypic evolution.
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