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Keywords:

  • Hybridization;
  • models/simulations;
  • reproductive isolation;
  • speciation

There are now a number of well-studied cases in which hybridization between closely related sympatric species has increased, sometimes resulting in the replacement of species pairs by hybrid swarms. Many of these cases have been linked to anthropogenic environmental change, but the mechanisms leading from environmental change to species collapse, and the long-term effects of hybridization on species pairs, remain poorly understood. We used an individual-based stochastic simulation model to explore the conditions under which disturbances that weaken premating barriers to reproduction patterns between sympatric species might lead to increased hybridization and to species collapse. Disturbances often resulted in bouts of hybridization, but in many cases strong reproductive isolation spontaneously reemerged. This was sometimes true even after hybrid swarms had replaced parental species. The reemergence of species pairs was most likely when disturbances were of short duration. Counterintuitively, incipient species pairs were more likely to reemerge after strong but temporary disturbances than after weaker disturbances of the same duration. Even temporary bouts of hybridization often led to substantial homogenization of species pairs. This suggests that ecosystem managers may be able to refill ecological niches, but in general will not be able to resurrect lost species after species collapse.