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


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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Figure 1: Phylogeographic distribution of P. enysii (Pe), P. fastigiatum (Pf) and P. stellatum (Ps) populations.
Figure 2: Recombination and allelic variants of glucosinolate hydrolysis genes in Pachycladon.
Figure 3: Selection signatures in open reading frames for Pachycladon ESP (homeologue 2) and ESM1.
Figure 4: Scenarios for conserving phylogenetic diversity.


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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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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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Correspondence to Matthias Becker.

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Becker, M., Gruenheit, N., Steel, M. et al. Hybridization may facilitate in situ survival of endemic species through periods of climate change. Nature Clim Change 3, 1039–1043 (2013).

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