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Distribution, ecology and reproductive biology of wild tomatoes and related nightshades from the Atacama Desert region of northern Chile


Over the past 20 years, several expeditions were made to northern Chile to collect populations of wild tomatoes (Solanum chilense, S. peruvianum) and allied nightshades (S. lycopersicoides, S. sitiens), and obtain information about their geographic distribution, ecology and reproductive biology. Restricted mainly to drainages of the Andean and the coastal cordillera, populations are geographically fragmented. The two nightshade species are rare and threatened by human activities. Adaptation to extreme aridity and soil salinity are evident in S. chilense and S. sitiens (the latter exhibits several xerophytic traits not seen in the tomatoes) and to low temperatures in S. lycopersicoides and S. chilense. All tested accessions are self-incompatible, with the exception of one S. peruvianum population collected at the southern limit of its distribution. Several distinguishing reproductive traits—anther color, attachment, and dehiscence, pollen size, and flower scent—suggest S. sitiens and S. lycopersicoides attract different pollinators than S. chilense and S. peruvianum. The four Solanum spp. native or endemic to Chile provide a variety of novel traits which, through hybridization and introgression with cultivated tomato, could facilitate development of improved varieties, as well as research on a variety of basic topics, including plant-pollinator interactions, abiotic stress responses, and evolution of reproductive barriers.

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