Hybridization and polyploidy are widely believed to be important sources of evolutionary novelty in plant evolution. Both can lead to novel gene combinations and/or novel patterns of gene expression, which in turn provide the variation on which natural selection can act. Here, we use nuclear and plastid gene trees, in conjunction with morphological data and genome size measurements, to show that both processes have been important in shaping the evolution of the angiosperm genus Mercurialis, particularly a clade of annual lineages that shows exceptional variation in the sexual system. Our results indicate that hexaploid populations of M. annua, in which the rare sexual system androdioecy is common (the occurrence of males and hermaphrodites) is of allopolyploid origin involving hybridization between an autotetraploid lineage of M. annua and the related diploid species M. huetii. We discuss the possibility that androdioecy may have evolved as a result of hybridization between dioecious M. huetii and monoecious tetraploid M. annua, an event that brought together the genes for specialist males with those for hermaphrodites.
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Vol. 60 • No. 9