Current rates of climate change require organisms to respond through migration, phenotypic plasticity, or genetic changes via adaptation. We focused on questions regarding species' and populations' ability to respond to climate change through adaptation. Specifically, the role adaptive introgression, movement of genetic material from the genome of 1 species into the genome of another through repeated interbreeding, may play in increasing species' ability to respond to a changing climate. Such interspecific gene flow may mediate extinction risk or consequences of limited adaptive potential that result from standing genetic variation and mutation alone, enabling a quicker demographic recovery in response to changing environments. Despite the near dismissal of the potential benefits of hybridization by conservation practitioners, we examined a number of case studies across different taxa that suggest gene flow between sympatric or parapatric sister species or within species that exhibit strong ecotypic differentiation may represent an underutilized management option to conserve evolutionary potential in a changing environment. This will be particularly true where advanced-generation hybrids exhibit adaptive traits outside the parental phenotypic range, a phenomenon known as transgressive segregation. The ideas presented in this essay are meant to provoke discussion regarding how we maintain evolutionary potential, the conservation value of natural hybrid zones, and consideration of their important role in adaptation to climate.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation