• Rana lessonae;
  • allozymes;
  • genetic structure;
  • hybrid zone;
  • introgression


Two distinct population groups of the pond frog Rana lessonae were detected in peninsular Italy and Sicily by multilocus electrophoresis: one group inhabits the peninsula down to northern Calabria, the second occurs in southern Calabria and on Sicily. Fixed alternative alleles distinguish the two groups at 5 of the 25 loci examined; marked allele frequency differences were observed at two additional loci. On average, the two groups differ by a Nei's standard genetic distance of 0.4. A wide hybrid zone (about 120 km) occurs between the two groups, with high genotypic diversity and absence of pure parental genotypes in central Calabria. Patterns of allozyme variation suggest that at least two distinct contact and hybridization events occurred, one in the Catanzaro, the other in the Crati-Sibari plains, about 70 km to the north. Geological evidence indicates that these areas correspond to two main marine-flooded grabens that would have repeatedly interrupted or reduced genetic exchange during Plio-Pleistocene times. The finding of a fixed difference at the Mdhp-1 locus between Sicilian and Calabrian R. lessonae witnesses their continuing differentiation following their last separation by definitive opening of the Strait of Messina, about 50 000 years ago. The wide hybrid zone, the diversity of genotypes and the agreement with Hardy-Weinberg expectations suggest complete hybrid fertility. Different patterns of introgression were observed at the various loci. The pattern of allelic variation at loci in R. lessonae is paralleled by the pattern of variation in lessonae genomes of the sympatric hemiclonal hybrid Rana esculenta, into which lessonae genomes are introduced each generation as a result of hybridogenesis.