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Keywords:

  • cryptic diversity;
  • hybridization;
  • intraspecific divergence;
  • reproductive isolation

Abstract

Phenotypically cryptic lineages appear common in nature, yet little is known about the mechanisms that initiate and/or maintain barriers to gene flow, or how secondary contact between them might influence evolutionary trajectories. The consequences of such contact between diverging lineages depend on hybrid fitness, highlighting the potential for postzygotic isolating barriers to play a role in the origins of biological species. Previous research shows that two cryptic, deeply diverged intraspecific mitochondrial lineages of a North American chorus frog, the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer), meet in secondary contact in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Our study quantified hatching success, tadpole survival, size at metamorphosis, and development time for experimentally generated pure lineage and hybrid tadpoles. Results suggest that lineages differ in tadpole survival and that F1 hybrids may have equal fitness and higher than average mass at metamorphosis compared with pure parental crosses. These findings imply hybrid early life viability may not be the pivotal reproductive isolation barrier helping to maintain lineage boundaries. However, we observed instances of tadpole gigantism, failure to metamorphose, and bent tails in some tadpoles from hybrid families. We also speculate and provide some evidence that apparent advantages or similarities of hybrids compared with pure lineage tadpoles may disappear when tadpoles are raised with competitors of different genetic makeup. This pilot study implies that ecological context and consideration of extrinsic factors may be a key to revealing mechanisms causing negative hybrid fitness during early life stages, a provocative avenue for future investigations on barriers to gene flow among these intraspecific lineages.