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When invaders meet locally adapted types: rapid moulding of hybrid zones between sculpins (Cottus, Pisces) in the Rhine system


Arne Nolte, Fax: 0049 221 470 5975; E-mail:


Hybrid zones are commonly studied to dissect the processes that drive divergence among lineages, which have incomplete barriers of reproduction. Most hybrid zones have existed for an extended time making inferences on the initial mode of formation difficult. It is a priori unclear how fast a nascent hybrid zone would form as a response to endogenous and exogenous factors. We have studied several hybrid zones between two lineages of sculpins (Cottus spp.), which emerged due to a recent range expansion of one of the lineages along the river Rhine in the early 1990s. Applying a dense sampling across two contact areas and using a highly informative set of 45 microsatellite markers we found pronounced genetic structure. Steep genetic clines suggest that strong selective forces have shaped the respective hybrid zones from the beginning. We find that the zones are coupled to ecological transitions from small streams to larger rivers. The width of these zones is much smaller than estimates of annual individual dispersal distances, as estimated outside of the hybrid zones. The pattern is apparently not strongly affected by pre- or postzygotic reproductive isolation because numerous backcross hybrids occur within the zones. This suggests that strong natural selection acts against immigrant genotypes. The study exemplifies how local adaptation can play a key role in preventing admixture in dependence of the ecological context.