Wormy mice in a hybrid zone


As one approach to analysing the genetic barriers between species, we studied the numbers and types of parasitic worms in two species of house mice (Mus musculus and M. domesticus) and in their natural hybrids. Where the ranges of these two species meet in southern Germany, there is a zone of hybridization less than 20 kilometres across1, in which about 98% of the mice have backcross genotypes. Fourteen of the 46 mice tested from within the zone have over 500 pinworms per gut, a number far exceeding the mean of 40 per gut for other mice inside and outside the zone. Other nematodes have a similar, non-random distribution. The number of mice bearing 9 or more tapeworms per gut is also excessive in the hybrid zone. These extraordinarily wormy mice may be unusually susceptible to parasitism; the different species may have different genes for resistance, and recombinant backcross animals may lose both2. Our findings support the view that the hybrid populations may have reduced fitness and thereby act as a genetic sink, interfering with the flow of genes between the two species1,3. The possibility that environmental or ecological peculiarities in the zone of hybridization make the mice more liable to infection is not supported.

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Sage, R., Heyneman, D., Lim, KC. et al. Wormy mice in a hybrid zone. Nature 324, 60–63 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1038/324060a0

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