Tracing the recombination and colonization history of hybrid species in space and time


Christian Lexer, Fax: +41 26 300 96 98; E-mail:


Hybrid speciation has long fascinated evolutionary biologists and laymen alike, presumably because it challenges our classical view of evolution as a ‘one-way street’ leading to strictly tree-like patterns of ancestry and descent. Homoploid hybrid speciation (HHS) has been a particularly interesting puzzle, as it appears to occur extremely rapidly, perhaps within less than 50 generations (McCarthy et al. 1995; Buerkle et al. 2000). Nevertheless, HHS may sometimes involve extended or repeated periods of recombination and gene exchange between populations subject to strong divergent natural selection (Buerkle & Rieseberg 2008). Thus, HHS provides a highly interesting setting for understanding the drivers and tempo of adaptive divergence and speciation in the face of gene flow (Arnold 2006; Rieseberg & Willis 2007; Nolte & Tautz 2009). In the present issue of Molecular Ecology, Wang et al. (2011) explore a particularly challenging issue connected to HHS: they attempt to trace the colonization and recombination history of an ancient (several MYA) hybrid species, from admixture and recombination in the ancestral hybrid zone to subsequent range shifts triggered by tectonic events (uplift of the Tibetan plateau) and climatic shifts (Pleistocene ice ages). This work is important because it addresses key issues related to the origin of the standing genetic variation available for adaptive responses (e.g. to climate change) and speciation in temperate species, which are topics of great current interest (Rieseberg et al. 2003; Barrett & Schluter 2008; de Carvalho et al. 2010).