Scientists identify factors limiting hybridization of closely-related woodrat species
A pair of new studies from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Idaho State University, and the University of Nevada Reno look at the surprising variety of factors that prevent two closely related species of woodrats from becoming a single hybrid species despite the existence of hybrid individuals where the two species come into contact.
This photo shows a woodrat emerging from its den at dusk. The small tags in each ear indicate that this individual had been previously captured and genetic material was sampled as part of a study to understand the dynamics of the hybrid zone in southern California.
Credit: Quinn Shurtliff
After finding that two closely related species, the desert and Bryant's woodrats, could interbreed and produce hybrid offspring, scientists set out to determine why only 14 percent of the population in a "contact zone" had genetic signatures from both species. (If the two species were similar enough to interbreed, what was keeping them from merging into a single hybrid species?)
In the study, "Ecological segregation in a small mammal hybrid zone: Habitat-specific mating opportunities and selection against hybrids restrict gene flow on a fine spatial scale," which appears in the March print edition of the journal Evolution, the authors discuss the factors driving these mating dynamics in a hybrid zone in southern California.
Trapping and handling hundreds of woodrats (also known as packrats), the scientists found that the two species are highly associated with different habitat types, though they may live within meters of each other along the boundary. Their research showed that 98 percent of Bryant's woodrats occupied a boulder-strewn hillside comprised of coastal / Sierra vegetation, while 93 percent of the desert woodrats occupied the adjacent valley floor consisting of Mojave desert scrub and a sandy substrate. This, in spite of the fact that both habitats were theoretically available to both species.
"Mating opportunities between species are limited because the two species make their homes and forage in very distinct habitats, even though those habitats are right next to each other," said lead author of both studies, Quinn Shurtliff of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Idaho State University.
Another reason why interbreeding between species is limited: personality conflicts. The scientists brought wild-caught woodrats into the laboratory to test female mate preferences.
They found that Bryant's woodrat females selected either Bryant's woodrat males or desert woodrat males with equal preference. Desert woodrat females, however, almost always mated with males of their own species.
The reason? The desert woodrat females were intimidated by Bryant's woodrat males due to their larger body size and aggressive nature. In contrast, Bryant's females, themselves larger, were open to mating with the smaller, more docile desert woodrat males as well as the males of their own species.
Another factor shown to be determining the number of hybrids is that hybrid offspring do not survive to adulthood as well as do the other two species. Higher proportions of Bryant's woodrats survived to their first year of adulthood than did the hybrids (33 percent vs. 10 percent). The same was the case for the desert woodrats (22 percent vs.10 percent percent). Once the hybrids reached their first year of adulthood, however, they fared as well as the purebreds.
The reason for the low juvenile hybrid survivability, the authors say, may lie in the lack of aggressiveness and ability to compete with purebred males for denning sites and in winning territorial battles. This may necessitate greater dispersal for the male hybrids pushing them out of range of female hybrids and exposing them to greater predation pressure.
Shurtliff said, "These studies offer further insight into the behavioral and ecological dynamics of hybrid zones.
Understanding these unique areas is important because there are many examples of naturally occurring hybrid zones, and new hybrid zones will form in the future as climate change and human impacts cause species distributions to shift and come into contact. For example, scientists have documented hybrid zones between introduced and native species, and climate change has already been linked to hybridization among flying squirrels in eastern North America. It is important to understand these relationships so that we can predict, and where necessary, mitigate their negative impacts."
"Experimental evidence for asymmetric mate preference and aggression: behavioral interactions in a woodrat (Neotoma) hybrid zone," appears online on BioMed Central. Authors include: Quinn R. Shurtliff of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Peter J. Murphy and Marjorie D. Matocq of the University of Nevada, Reno; and Jaclyn D. Yeiter of Idaho State University.
"Ecological segregation in a small mammal hybrid zone: Habitat-specific mating opportunities and selection against hybrids restrict gene flow on a fine spatial scale," appears in the March print edition of the journal Evolution. Authors include: Quinn R. Shurtliff of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Peter J. Murphy and Marjorie D. Matocq of the University of Nevada, Reno.
Scott Smith | EurekAlert!
Scientists team up on study to save endangered African penguins
16.11.2017 | Florida Atlantic University
Climate change: Urban trees are growing faster worldwide
13.11.2017 | Technische Universität München
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
22.11.2017 | Business and Finance
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy