Human-mediated global change will probably increase the rates of natural hybridization and genetic introgression between closely related species, and this will have major implications for conservation of the taxa involved. In this study, we analyse both mitochondrial and nuclear data to characterize ongoing hybridization and genetic introgression between two sympatric sister species of mustelids, the endangered European mink (Mustela lutreola) and the more abundant polecat (M. putorius). A total of 317 European mink, 114 polecats and 15 putative hybrid individuals were collected from different localities in Europe and genotyped with 13 microsatellite nuclear markers. Recently developed Bayesian methods for assigning individuals to populations and identifying admixture proportions were applied to the genetic data. To identify the direction of hybridization, we additionally sequenced mtDNA and Y chromosomes from 78 individuals and 29 males respectively. We found that both hybridization and genetic introgression occurred at low levels (3% and 0.9% respectively) and indicated that hybridization is asymmetric, as only pure polecat males mate with pure European mink females. Furthermore, backcrossing and genetic introgression was detected only from female first-generation (F1) hybrids of European mink to polecats. This latter result implies that Haldane’s rule may apply. Our results suggest that hybridization and genetic introgression between the two species should be considered a rather uncommon event. However, the current low densities of European mink might be changing this trend.
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