Introgressive hybridization occurs when closely related taxa overlap in distribution and is often associated with historically isolated populations coming into contact as a result of anthropogenic disturbance. There is evolutionary and conservation interest in detecting hybridization to determine its implications on future species composition, especially for threatened and recovering taxa such as subantarctic (Arctocephalus tropicalis) and Antarctic (A. gazella) fur seals, which were driven to the brink of extinction by human exploitation. Hybridization between these species has been reported at two locations and they breed sympatrically at a third site, Iles Crozet. While hybrid individuals have previously been identified based on phenotype, individuals can be difficult to classify based on these characteristics alone. Genotypic hybrid identification has been successful in several species, including fur seals. In this study we conducted an assignment test using microsatellite data to identify hybrids and to measure the frequency of hybridization at Iles Crozet. Samples were collected from 372 individuals and screened with 6 polymorphic microsatellite markers. MtDNA genotypes were also determined for individuals identified as hybrids or backcrosses based on microsatellite genotype. Phenotype, microsatellite and mtDNA genotype were then compared in order to identify hybrids. The results indicate that 1% of the population have hybrid genotypes and at a minimum, 2.4% of the population are backcrossed to parental species. We found that the two species are genetically distinct from one another and given the low rate of hybridization it is unlikely that they will fuse. These results suggest that there is a mechanism for species recognition that acts as a barrier to hybridization. It therefore seems unlikely that fur seals are threatened by significant introgression. Further investigation of fur seal mating systems would provide valuable insight into the mechanisms governing hybridization and species recognition in mate choice.
- Assignment test
- Fur seals