Letter | Published:

Hybridization may facilitate in situ survival of endemic species through periods of climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 10391043 (2013) | Download Citation


Predicting survival and extinction scenarios for climate change requires an understanding of the present day ecological characteristics of species and future available habitats, but also the adaptive potential of species to cope with environmental change. Hybridization is one mechanism that could facilitate this. Here we report statistical evidence that the transfer of genetic information through hybridization is a feature of species from the plant genus Pachycladon that survived the Last Glacial Maximum in geographically separated alpine refugia in New Zealand’s South Island. We show that transferred glucosinolate hydrolysis genes also exhibit evidence of intra-locus recombination. Such gene exchange and recombination has the potential to alter the chemical defence in the offspring of hybridizing species. We use a mathematical model to show that when hybridization increases the adaptive potential of species, future biodiversity will be best protected by preserving closely related species that hybridize rather than by conserving distantly related species that are genetically isolated.

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N.G. and O.D. were supported by Postdoctoral Fellowships from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). C.V. was a recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship. This work was initiated with financial support from the New Zealand Marsden Fund and received additional project funding from Massey University. P.J.L. and M.S. contributed to this work while New Zealand Royal Society James Cook Fellows. We thank B. Martin, S. Joly and K. Sluis (Illumina) for their support and encouragement, and V. Symonds for constructive comments.

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  1. Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand

    • Matthias Becker
    • , Nicole Gruenheit
    • , Claudia Voelckel
    • , Oliver Deusch
    • , Patricia A. McLenachan
    •  & Peter J. Lockhart
  2. Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP, UK

    • Nicole Gruenheit
  3. Allan Wilson Centre, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand

    • Mike Steel
  4. Landcare Research, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand

    • Peter B. Heenan
  5. Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

    • Olga Kardailsky
  6. Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Otago, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

    • Jessica W. Leigh


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M.B., N.G., O.D., C.V., P.B.H. and P.J.L. designed the experiments and conducted most analyses. P.A.M. and O.K. provided technical support. The authorship order reflects relative contributions. J.W.L. designed and conducted the recombination breakpoint test. P.J.L. developed the conjecture, and M.S. the mathematical model described in the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Matthias Becker.

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