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Research article2010Peer reviewed

Detecting hybridization between willow grouse (Lagopus lagopus) and rock ptarmigan (L. muta) in Central Sweden through Bayesian admixture analyses and mtDNA screening

Quintela, Maria; Thulin, Carl-Gustaf; Hoglund, Jacob


Willow grouse (L. lagopus) and rock ptarmigan (L. muta) are sibling species with similar phenotypic and life histories that coexist sympatrically in wide areas of their distribution range. These grouse are amongst the most popular game birds in Scandinavia but contrary to other quarry species, no restocking with captive-bred animals has ever been performed. The discovery of two individuals with intermediate plumage features evoked the question of possible hybridization events between both species, an idea that did not seem too unlikely on the basis of habitat overlap. Thus, to assess whether any genetic exchange is occurring, we used different Bayesian-based admixture analyses of multilocus genotypes determined at twelve microsatellite loci. We also obtained mitochondrial COI-sequences from a selected number of individuals to infer the maternal geneflow and potential introgression. The capacity of our panel of microsatellite markers to detect hybridization was verified using assignments of simulated genotypes. We then evaluated the extent of hybridization in an actual sample of 111 individuals collected in a 100-km(2) area in the Scandinavian mountain range. An admixed condition was verified in one of the suspected hybrids, that seemed to carry a L. muta genotype with partial L. lagopus introgression. In addition, more than 4% of L. lagopus showed signs of hybridization under the most conservative scenario with respect to discrepancies between population assignment methods. This was unexpected, given that no L. lagopus displayed any apparent intermediate plumage features. Furthermore, interspecific geneflow of mtDNA haplotypes was lower than expected; which suggests that Haldane's rule might apply for these two grouse species. Hence, plumage identification of hybrid ancestry is not always reliable and might lead to biases in the estimation of hybridization rates. Hybridisation may be expected to increase if the climate gets warmer as the habitat overlap between the species will become more extensive. We discuss whether hybridisation is a threat to the long-term survival of any of the two species.


Microsatellites; Willow grouse; Rock ptarmigan; Game species; Hybridization

Published in

Conservation Genetics
2010, Volume: 11, number: 2, pages: 557-569