Hybridization in the Ensatina Ring Species, Strong selection against hybrids at a hybrid
zone in the ensatina ring species complex and its evolutionary implications
The analysis of interactions between lineages at varying levels of genetic divergence can provide insights into the process of speciation through the accumulation of incompatible mutations. Ring species, and especially the Ensatina eschscholtzii system exemplify this approach. The plethodontid salamanders Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica and Ensatina eschscholtzii platensis hybridize in the Central Sierran foothills of California. We compared the genetic structure across two transects (southern and northern Calaveras Co.), one of which was re-sampled over 20 years, and examined diagnostic molecular markers (eight allozyme loci and mitochondrial DNA) and a diagnostic quantitative trait (color pattern). Key results across all studies were: i) cline centers for all markers were coincident and the zones were narrow, with width estimates of 730m to 2000m; ii) cline centers at the northern Calaveras transect were coincident between 1981 and 2001, demonstrating repeatability over 5 generations; iii) there are very few if any putative F1's, but a relatively high number of backcrossed individuals (57-86 percent) in the central portion of transects; iv) we found substantial linkage disequilibrium in all three studies and strong heterozygote deficit both in northern Calaveras, in 2001, and southern Calaveras. Both linkage disequilibrium and heterozygote deficit show maximum values near the center of the zones (R and Fis, approx. equal to 0.5). Using estimates of cline width and dispersal, we infer strong selection against hybrids (s* approx. equal to 46-75 percent). This is sufficient to promote accumulation of differences at loci that are neutral or under divergent selection, but would still allow for introgression of a daptive alleles. The evidence for strong, but incomplete isolation across this centrally located contact is consistent with theory suggesting a gradual increase in postzygotic incompatibility between allopatric populations subject to divergent selection and reinforces the value of Ensatina as a system for the study of divergence and speciation at multiple stages.