, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 149-156

Natural hybridization of Japanese Rhododendron section Brachycaryx in Mount Kintoki in eastern Japan and concerns for genetic diversity in restoring their habitat

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Native Rhododendrons section Brachycaryx in eastern Japan are decreasing in their natural habitats and the need to restore these habitats is increasing. Conservation of genetic diversity in restoring habitat requires clarification of the balance of interspecies genetic exchange which occurs in their natural habitats. In well-preserved natural habitats of Rhododendron dilatatum, R. kiyosumense, and R. wadanum and their natural hybrids R.×kuratanum and R.×hasegawai we investigated their geographical distribution, frequency, and flowering period. DNA analysis of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region was also conducted to confirm the species related to hybridization. Our findings in the field survey were: (1) Hybridizations occur in the overlap zones of related species. (2) R.×hasegawai occurs more frequently than R.×kuratanum, probably because the flowering seasons of R. kiyosumense and R. wadanum overlap longer than those of R. dilatatum and R. kiyosumense. (3) Natural hybrid occurrence is, nevertheless, under 9% of all related Rhododendrons section Brachycalyx. Analysis of the ITS region suggested that the two hybrids are generated from interspecific gene exchange, i.e., (4) R. dilatatum and R. kiyosumense relate to the formation of R.×kuratanum. (5) R.×hasegawai is a hybrid of R. wadanum and some species other than R. wadanum. On the basis of these findings we delineated several guidelines for restoring habitats of Rhododendrons of Section Brachycaryx with concerns for genetic diversity: (1) Before use, identify plant materials by morphological traits to determine whether they are original species or hybrids. (2) Investigate the distribution of remnant Rhododendrons section Brachycaryx before restoration. (3) Combine plant materials of original species in the natural distribution.