The benefits of interpopulation hybridization diminish with increasing divergence of small populations


Correspondence: Nina Pekkala, Department of Biological and Environmental Science, PO Box 35, FIN-40014, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland.

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Interpopulation hybridization can increase the viability of small populations suffering from inbreeding and genetic drift, but it can also result in outbreeding depression. The outcome of hybridization can depend on various factors, including the level of genetic divergence between the populations, and the number of source populations. Furthermore, the effects of hybridization can change between generations following the hybridization. We studied the effects of population divergence (low vs. high level of divergence) and the number of source populations (two vs. four source populations) on the viability of hybrid populations using experimental Drosophila littoralis populations. Population viability was measured for seven generations after hybridization as proportion of populations facing extinction and as per capita offspring production. Hybrid populations established at the low level of population divergence were more viable than the inbred source populations and had higher offspring production than the large control population. The positive effects of hybridization lasted for the seven generations. In contrast, at the high level of divergence, the viability of the hybrid populations was not significantly different from the inbred source populations, and offspring production in the hybrid populations was lower than in the large control population. The number of source populations did not have a significant effect at either low or high level of population divergence. The study shows that the benefits of interpopulation hybridization may decrease with increasing divergence of the populations, even when the populations share identical environmental conditions. We discuss the possible genetic mechanisms explaining the results and address the implications for conservation of populations.