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A hybrid zone revisited: molecular and morphological analysis of the maintenance, movement, and evolution of a Great Plains avian (Cardinalidae: Pheucticus) hybrid zone


Raeann D. Mettler, Fax: 605-642-6762; E-mail:


Black-headed grosbeaks (Pheucticus melanocephalus) and rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) are passerine bird species known to hybridize in the Great Plains of North America. Both extrinsic (environmental) and intrinsic factors (pre- and postzygotic reproductive isolation) have been credited for the generation and maintenance of the grosbeak hybrid zone, but little is known about the genetic characteristics of this hybrid zone. To investigate the stability and extent of the grosbeak hybrid zone, we constructed clines from both molecular sequence data (mtDNA, three autosomal intron loci, and one Z-linked locus) and morphological data (morphometric analyses and hybrid index scores) to determined zone centre and width. Hybrid zone centre and width were also determined for samples collected across the zone 40 years ago from morphological data. The present and past clines were compared and provided support for stability in hybrid zone location and width, and the evolutionary implications of this are discussed. Three models of hybrid zone maintenance were investigated to consider the influence of intrinsic and extrinsic factors on this zone. Our results suggest low hybrid frequencies, a stable zone location and narrow width, and reduced hybrid fitness over the past 40 years best categorize the grosbeak hybrid zone as a tension zone.

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