Widespread unidirectional transfer of mitochondrial DNA: a case in western Palaearctic water frogs


Jörg Plötner, Museum für Naturkunde, Zoologie, Humboldt-Universität, Invalidenstrasse 43, 10115, Berlin, Germany.
Tel.: +49 30 20938508; fax: +49 30 20938528;
e-mail: joerg.ploetner@museum.hu-berlin.de


Interspecies transfer of mitochondrial (mt) DNA is a common phenomenon in plants, invertebrates and vertebrates, normally linked with hybridization of closely related species in zones of sympatry or parapatry. In central Europe, in an area north of 48°N latitude and between 8° and 22°E longitude, western Palaearctic water frogs show massive unidirectional introgression of mtDNA: 33.7% of 407 Rana ridibunda possessed mtDNA specific for Rana lessonae. By contrast, no R. lessonae with R. ridibunda mtDNA was observed. That R. ridibunda with introgressed mitochondrial genomes were found exclusively within the range of the hybrid Rana esculenta and that most hybrids had lessonae mtDNA (90.4% of 335 individuals investigated) is evidence that R. esculenta serves as a vehicle for transfer of lessonae mtDNA into R. ridibunda. Such introgression has occurred several times independently. The abundance and wide distribution of individuals with introgressed mitochondrial genomes show that R. lessonae mt genomes work successfully in a R. ridibunda chromosomal background despite their high sequence divergence from R. ridibunda mtDNAs (14.2–15.2% in the ND2/ND3 genes). Greater effectiveness of enzymes encoded by R. lessonae mtDNA may be advantageous to individuals of R. ridibunda and probably R. esculenta in the northern parts of their ranges.