Phylogenomics of the genus Populus reveals extensive interspecific gene flow and balancing selection

Mingcheng Wang, Lei Zhang, Zhiyang Zhang, Mengmeng Li, Deyan Wang, Xu Zhang, Zhenxiang Xi, Ken Keefover-Ring, Lawrence B. Smart, Stephen P. DiFazio, Matthew S. Olson, Tongming Yin, Jianquan Liu, Tao Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Phylogenetic analysis is complicated by interspecific gene flow and the presence of shared ancestral polymorphisms, particularly those maintained by balancing selection. In this study, we aimed to examine the prevalence of these factors during the diversification of Populus, a model tree genus in the Northern Hemisphere. We constructed phylogenetic trees of 29 Populus taxa using 80 individuals based on re-sequenced genomes. Our species tree analyses recovered four main clades in the genus based on consensus nuclear phylogenies, but in conflict with the plastome phylogeny. A few interspecific relationships remained unresolved within the multiple-species clade because of inconsistent gene trees. Our results indicated that gene flow has been widespread within each clade and also occurred among the four clades during their early divergence. We identified 45 candidate genes with ancient polymorphisms maintained by balancing selection. These genes were mainly associated with mating compatibility, growth and stress resistance. Both gene flow and selection-mediated ancient polymorphisms are prevalent in the genus Populus. These are potentially important contributors to adaptive variation. Our results provide a framework for the diversification of model tree genus that will facilitate future comparative studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1370-1382
Number of pages13
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Populus
  • balancing selection
  • gene flow
  • phylogenomics
  • trans-specific polymorphisms


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