Dog lovers in search for the right canine are often faced with the challenge of choosing between a mutt and a pure breed. Most of these people would never expect that their own curiosities are also shared by ecologists.
Hybrids are a symbol of complexity. For several decades these mixed species have challenged ecologists who study their role in ecological communities. Ecologists are still asking themselves the question: Are plant and animal hybrids viable contributors to ecosystems or just evolutionary blunders? The Special Feature in the March issue of Ecology focuses on hybridization and the current research encompassing this issue.
Indeed, researchers are intrigued by the unique genetic makeup of hybrid species that merit evolutionary distinction from their parental generations. Researchers at the University of Georgia, Department of Genetics conducted a study challenging the existing paradigms that minimize the importance of hybridization in ecological settings. Michael Arnold et al. in their paper "Natural Hybridization: How Low Can You Go and Still Be Important?" state that hybrids are in fact viable evolutionary components of communities, and in some cases, more fit than their parents. Because hybridization enhances genetic variation, Arnold states, "...hybrid genotypes can be more fit than parental genotypes in novel environments."
In contrast, Catherine Moulia from the Laboratoire de Parasiologie Compare in France presents a different scenario. Her research on hybrid mice reveals that they are more prone to parasite attack than their parental counterparts (Mus mus musculus and M. m. domesticus). Her review of the parasitism of animal hybrids not only suggests an evolutionary implication of parasites. It also stresses that this implication of parasites is very similar in animal and in plant hybrids.
According to some studies reviewed by Moulia, "By taking advantage of hybrid
susceptibility, parasites could enhance their range and
Contact: Alison Gillespie
Ecological Society of America