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Local environmental features can shape hybrid zone dynamics when hybrids are bounded by ecotones or when patchily distributed habitat types lead to a corresponding mosaic of genotypes. We investigated the role of marsh-level characteristics in shaping a hybrid zone between two recently diverged avian taxa – Saltmarsh (Ammodramus caudacutus) and Nelson's (A. nelsoni) sparrows. These species occupy different niches where allopatric, with caudacutus restricted to coastal marshes and nelsoni found in a broader array of wetland and grassland habitats and co-occur in tidal marshes in sympatry. We determined the influence of habitat types on the distribution of pure and hybrid sparrows and assessed the degree of overlap in the ecological niche of each taxon. To do this, we sampled and genotyped 305 sparrows from 34 marshes across the hybrid zone and from adjacent regions. We used linear regression to test for associations between marsh characteristics and the distribution of pure and admixed sparrows. We found a positive correlation between genotype and environmental variables with a patchy distribution of genotypes and habitats across the hybrid zone. Ecological niche models suggest that the hybrid niche was more similar to that of A. nelsoni and habitat suitability was influenced strongly by distance from coastline. Our results support a mosaic model of hybrid zone maintenance, suggesting a role for local environmental features in shaping the distribution and frequency of pure species and hybrids across space.
Ecology and Evolution
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Walsh, J., Rowe, R. J., Olsen, B. J., Shriver, W. G. and Kovach, A. I. (2016), Genotype-environment associations support a mosaic hybrid zone between two tidal marsh birds. Ecol Evol, 6: 279–294. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.1864
© 2015 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.