Nuclear markers, mitochondrial DNA and male secondary sexual traits variation in a newt hybrid zone (Triturus vulgaris × T. montandoni)


Wiesław Babik. Fax: + 48 12 634 37 16; E-mail:


The smooth and the Montandon's newts (Triturus vulgaris and T. montandoni) are genetically similar sister species with highly divergent male secondary sexual traits involved in complex courtship behaviour. Their parapatric ranges overlap at moderate elevations in the Carpathian Mountains where they hybridize readily. Here we present a detailed study of genetic and morphological variation in populations from the area of sympatry. Analysis of variation at seven nuclear markers, mtDNA and male sexual secondary traits was complemented with an ecological survey of breeding sites characteristics. Extensive hybridization was revealed with back-cross individuals similar to either parental species predominating among hybrids. The hybrid zone exhibited a mosaic pattern: the genetic composition of the populations was correlated only weakly with their geographical position. No association with habitat type was found. Departures from Hardy–Weinberg proportions, significant linkage disequilibria and bimodal distribution of genotypes suggest strongly that assortative mating is an important factor shaping the genetic composition of hybrid populations. The pattern of cytonuclear disequilibria did not indicate much asymmetry in interspecific matings. Changes in the frequency of nuclear markers were highly concordant, whereas mtDNA showed much wider bidirectional introgression with 14% excess of T. montandoni haplotype. We argue that the mosaic structure of the newt hybrid zone results mainly from stochastic processes related to extinction and recolonization. Microgeographical differences in mtDNA introgression are explained by historical range shifts. Since morphologically intermediate males were underrepresented when compared to hybrid males identified by genetic markers, sexual selection acting against the morphological intermediates is implied. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of reinforcement of prezygotic isolation in newts.