Background: Secondary contact between closely related lineages can result in a variety of outcomes, including hybridization, depending upon the strength of reproductive barriers. By examining the extent to which different parts of the genome introgress, it is possible to infer the strength of selection and gain insight into the evolutionary trajectory of lineages. Following secondary contact approximately 8000 years ago in the Pacific Northwest, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) and black-tailed deer (O. h. columbianus) formed a hybrid swarm along the Cascade mountain range despite substantial differences in body size (up to two times) and habitat preference. In this study, we examined genetic population structure, extent of introgression, and selection pressures in freely interbreeding populations of mule deer and black-tailed deer using mitochondrial DNA sequences, 9 microsatellite loci, and 95 SNPs from protein-coding genes.
Results: We observed bi-directional hybridization and classified approximately one third of the 172 individuals as hybrids, almost all of which were beyond the F1 generation. High genetic differentiation between black-tailed deer and mule deer at protein-coding genes suggests that there is positive divergent selection, though selection on these loci is relatively weak. Contrary to predictions, there was not greater selection on protein-coding genes thought to be associated with immune function and mate choice. Geographic cline analyses were consistent across genetic markers, suggesting long-term stability (over hundreds of generations), and indicated that the center of the hybrid swarm is 20-30 km to the east of the Cascades ridgeline, where there is a steep ecological transition from wet, forested habitat to dry, scrub habitat.
Conclusions: Our data are consistent with a genetic boundary between mule deer and black-tailed deer that is porous but maintained by many loci under weak selection having a substantial cumulative effect. The absence of clear reproductive barriers and the consistent centering of geographic clines at a sharp ecotone suggests that ecology is a driver of hybrid swarm dynamics. Adaptive introgression in this study (and others) promotes gene flow and provides valuable insight into selection strength on specific genes and the evolutionary trajectory of hybridizing taxa.
- Cascade Range
- Secondary contact