A lack of optimal gene combinations, as well as low levels of genetic diversity are often associated with the formation of species range margins. Conservation efforts rely on predictive modelling using abiotic variables and assessments of genetic diversity to determine target species and populations for controlled breeding, germplasm conservation and assisted migration. Biotic factors such as interspecific competition and hybridization, however, are largely ignored, despite their prevalence across diverse taxa and their role as key evolutionary forces. Hybridization between species with well developed barriers to reproductive isolation often results in the production of offspring with lower fitness. Generation of novel allelic combinations through hybridization, however, can also generate positive fitness consequences. Despite this possibility, hybridization-mediated introgression is often considered a threat to biodiversity because it can blur species boundaries. The contribution of hybridization towards increasing genetic diversity of populations at range margins has only recently gathered attention in conservation studies. We assessed the extent to which hybridization contributes towards range dynamics by tracking spatio-temporal changes in the central location of a hybrid zone between two recently diverged species of pines: Pinus strobiformis and P. flexilis. By comparing geographic cline centre estimates for global admixture coefficient with morphological traits associated with reproductive output we demonstrate a northward shift in the hybrid zone. Using a combination of spatially explicit, individual-based simulations and linkage disequilibrium variance partitioning we note a significant contribution of adaptive introgression towards this northward movement, despite the potential for differences in regional population size to aid hybrid zone movement. Overall, our study demonstrates that hybridization between recently diverged species can increase genetic diversity and generate novel allelic combinations. These novel combinations may allow range margin populations to track favourable climatic conditions or facilitate adaptive evolution to on-going and future climate change.
|Date made available||2019|