Climate change induced hybridization in flying squirrels


Colin J. Garroway, tel. +705 875 1881, fax 705 755 1559, e-mail:


There is now unequivocal evidence for global climate change; however, its potential impacts on evolutionary processes remain unclear. Many species have responded to contemporary climate change through shifts in their geographic range. This could lead to increased sympatry between recently diverged species; likely increasing the potential for hybridization. Recently, following a series of warm winters, southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) in Ontario, Canada rapidly expanded their northern range limit resulting in increased sympatry with the closely related northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus). This provided the opportunity to test the prediction that contemporary climate change can act as a catalyst creating conditions for the formation of hybrid zones. Following extensive sampling and molecular analyses (nuclear and mitochondrial DNA), we identified the occurrence of hybridization between sympatric G. sabrinus and G. volans. There was evidence of backcrossing but not of extensive introgession, consistent with the hypothesis of recent rather than historic hybridization. To our knowledge, this is the first report of hybrid zone formation following a range expansion induced by contemporary climate change. This is also the first report of hybridization between North American flying squirrel species.