Distinctiveness in the face of gene flow: Hybridization between specialist and generalist gartersnakes

Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick, John S. Placyk, Matthew L. Niemiller, Gary S. Casper, Gordon M. Burghardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Patterns of divergence and polymorphism across hybrid zones can provide important clues as to their origin and maintenance. Unimodal hybrid zones or hybrid swarms are composed predominantly of recombinant individuals whose genomes are patchworks of alleles derived from each parental lineage. In contrast, bimodal hybrid zones contain few identifiable hybrids; most individuals fall within distinct genetic clusters. Distinguishing between hybrid swarms and bimodal hybrid zones can be important for taxonomic and conservation decisions regarding the status and value of hybrid populations. In addition, the causes of bimodality are important in understanding the generation and maintenance of biological diversity. For example, are distinct clusters mostly reproductively isolated and co-adapted gene complexes, or can distinctiveness be maintained by a few 'genomic islands' despite rampant gene flow across much of the genome? Here we focus on three patterns of distinctiveness in the face of gene flow between gartersnake taxa in the Great Lakes region of North America. Bimodality, the persistence of distinct clusters of genotypes, requires strong barriers to gene flow and supports recognition of distinct specialist (Thamnophis butleri) and generalist (Thamnophis radix) taxa. Concordance of DNA-based clusters with morphometrics supports the hypothesis that trophic morphology is a key component of divergence. Finally, disparity in the level of differentiation across molecular markers (amplified fragment length polymorphisms) indicates that distinctiveness is maintained by strong selection on a few traits despite high gene flow currently or in the recent past.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4107-4117
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 1 2008


  • Conservation genetics
  • Hybrid zone
  • Speciation
  • Thamnophis butleri
  • Thamnophis radix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

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