Aggression, Mate Choice, and Secondary Succession: The Rise and Fall of a Hybrid Zone

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Heredity






Hybridization can be an important evolutionary force by generating new species and influencing evolution of parental species in multiple ways, including introgression and the consequences of hybrid vigor. Determining the ecological processes underlying evolution in hybrid zones is difficult however because it requires examining changes in both genotypic frequencies over time and corresponding ecological information, data that are rarely collected together. Here, we describe genetic and ecological aspects of a hybrid zone between the Eastern Fence Lizard, Sceloporus undulatus, and the Florida Scrub Lizard, Sceloporus woodi, occurring over at least 23 generations. The hybrid zone, discovered greater than 35 years ago using morphological characters, originally consisted of nearly even proportions of parental species and hybrids. Now, using genetic markers (species-diagnostic mtDNA sites and 6 nDNA microsatellite loci across a total of n = 117 individuals), we confirm not only that hybridization occurred but also that subsequent backcrossing has resulted in highly introgressed hybrids, with many hybrids containing mitochondrial DNA from one species on a nuclear DNA background of the other. Ecological aspects explaining these shifts in genetic composition include female mate choice, changes in habitat associated with secondary succession, and, most strongly, a hierarchy of male territorial advantage—ecological mechanisms likely to be involved in the emergence and disappearance of many animal hybrid zones. Our results suggest that genetic assimilation is not a significant threat to either species and that rather transient hybrid zones such as this may serve to increase genetic diversity and are candidates for causing genetic discordance in phylogeographic analyses.