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Dispersal predicts hybrid zone widths across animal diversity: Implications for species borders under incomplete reproductive isolation

By Jay P. McEntee, J. Gordon Burleigh, Sonal Singhal

Posted 18 Nov 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/472506 (published DOI: 10.1086/709109)

Hybrid zones occur as range boundaries for many animal taxa. One model for how hybrid zones form and are stabilized is the tension zone model. This model predicts that hybrid zone widths are determined by a a balance between random dispersal into hybrid zones and selection against hybrids, and it does not formally account for local ecological gradients. Given the model's simplicity, it provides a useful starting point for examining variation in hybrid zone widths across animals. Here we examine whether random dispersal and a proxy for selection against hybrids (mtDNA distance) can explain variation in hybrid zone widths across 135 hybridizing taxon pairs. We show that dispersal explains >30% of hybrid zone width variation across animal diversity and that mtDNA distance explains little variation. Clade-specific analyses revealed idiosyncratic patterns. Dispersal and mtDNA distance predict hybrid zone widths especially well in reptiles, while hybrid zone width scaled positively with mtDNA distance in birds, opposite predictions. Lastly, the data suggest that lower bounds on hybrid zone widths may be set by dispersal and the extent of molecular divergence, suggesting that hybrid zones are unlikely to form in restricted geographic spaces in highly dispersive and/or recently diverged taxa. Overall, our analyses reinforce the fundamental importance of dispersal in hybrid zone formation, and more generally in the ecology of range boundaries.

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