Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

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.


  1. Hoffmann, A. A. & Sgrò, C. M. Climate change and evolutionary adaptation. Nature 470, 479–485 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Bálint, M. et al. Cryptic biodiversity loss linked to global climate change. Nature Clim. Change 1, 313–318 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Anderson, J. T., Panetta, A. M. & Mitchell-Olds, T. Evolutionary and ecological responses to anthropogenic climate change: Update on anthropogenic climate change. Plant Physiol. 160, 1728–1740 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Abbott, R. et al. Hybridization and speciation. J. Evol. Biol. 160, 229–246 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Muhlfeld, C. C. et al. Hybridization rapidly reduces fitness of a native trout in the wild. Biol. Lett. 5, 328–331 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Rieseberg, L. H. Evolution: Replacing genes and traits through hybridization. Curr. Biol. 19, R119–R122 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Arnold, M. L. Transfer and origin of adaptations through natural hybridization: Were Anderson and Stebbins right? Plant Cell 16, 562–570 (2004).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. The Heliconius Consortium, Butterfly genome reveals promiscuous exchange of mimicry adaptations among species. Nature 487, 94–98 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Heenan, P. B. & Mitchell, A. D. Phylogeny, biogeography and adaptive radiation of Pachycladon (Brassicaceae) in the mountains of South Island, New Zealand. J. Biogeograph. 30, 1737–1749 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Joly, S., Heenan, P. B. & Lockhart, P. J. A Pleistocene inter-tribal allopolyploidization event precedes the species radiation of Pachycladon (Brassicaceae) in New Zealand. Mol. Phylogenet. Evolut. 51, 365–372 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Joly, S. JML: Testing hybridization from species trees. Mol. Ecol. Res. 12, 179–184 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Zhang, Z., Ober, J. A. & Kliebenstein, D. J. The gene controlling the quantitative trait locus EPITHIOSPECIFIER MODIFIER1 alters glucosinolate hydrolysis and insect resistance in Arabidopsis. Plant Cell 18, 1524–1536 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Lambrix, V., Reichelt, M., Mitchell-Olds, T., Kliebenstein, D. J. & Gershenzon, J. The Arabidopsis epithiospecifier protein promotes the hydrolysis of glucosinolates to nitriles and influences Trichoplusia ni herbivory. Plant Cell 13, 2793–2807 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Agee, A. E. et al. Modified vacuole phenotype1 is an Arabidopsis myrosinase-associated protein involved in endomembrane protein trafficking. Plant Physiol. 152, 120–132 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Voelckel, C. et al. Transcriptional and biochemical signatures of divergence in natural populations of two species of New Zealand alpine Pachycladon. Mol. Ecol. 17, 4740–4753 (2008).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Wittstock, U. & Burow, M. Glucosinolate breakdown in Arabidopsis : Mechanism, regulation and biological significance. Arabidopsis Book 8, e0134 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Voelckel, C., Gruenheit, N., Biggs, P., Deusch, O. & Lockhart, P. J. Chips and tags suggest plant-environment interactions differ for two alpine Pachycladon species. BMC Genom. 13, e322 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Nadachowska-Brzyska, K., Zieliński, P., Radwan, J. & Babik, W. Interspecific hybridization increases MHC class II diversity in two sister species of newts. Mol. Ecol. 21, 887–906 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Abi-Rached, L. et al. The shaping of modern human immune systems by multiregional admixture with archaic humans. Science 334, 89–94 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Benton, M. J. The red queen and the court jester: Species diversity and the role of biotic and abiotic factors through time. Science 323, 728–732 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Moulton, V., Semple, C. & Steel, M. Optimizing phylogenetic diversity under constraints. J. Theoret. Biol. 246, 186–194 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. O’Brien, S. J. & Mayr, E. Bureaucratic mischief: Recognizing endangered species and subspecies. Science 251, 1187–1188 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Allendorf, F. W., Leary, R. F., Spruell, P. & Wenburg, J. K. The problems with hybrids: Setting conservation guidelines. Trends Ecol. Evol. 16, 613–622 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Weitzman, M. L. The Noah’s Ark problem. Econometrica 66, 1279–1298 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Witting, L., Tomiuk, J. & Loeschecke, V. Modelling the optimal conservation of interacting species. Ecol. Model. 125, 123–144 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Purvis, A., Agapow, P. M., Gittleman, J. L. & Mace, G. M. Nonrandom extinction and the loss of evolutionary history. Science 288, 328–330 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Thuiller, W. et al. Consequences of climate change on the tree of life in Europe. Nature 470, 531–534 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Ryan, M. E., Johnson, J. R. & Fitzpatrick, B. M. Invasive hybrid tiger salamander genotypes impact native amphibians. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 11166–71 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Librado, P. & Rozas, J. DnaSP v5: A software for comprehensive analysis of DNA polymorphism data. Bioinformatics 25, 1451–1452 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthias Becker.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing