Genetic admixture despite ecological segregation in a North African sparrow hybrid zone (Aves, Passeriformes, Passer domesticus × Passer hispaniolensis)

Mario Lo Valvo, Gabriele Giacalone, Melita Vamberger, David Canal, Abdelkrim Ait Belkacem, Oliver Gast, Hannes Wolfgramm, Michael Wink, Jochen Martens, Martin Päckert, Heiko Stuckas

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Under different environmental conditions, hybridization between the same species might result in different patterns of genetic admixture. Particularly, species pairs with large distribution ranges and long evolutionary history may have experienced several independent hybridization events over time in different zones of overlap. In birds, the diverse hybrid populations of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) and the Spanish sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis) provide a striking example. Throughout their range of sympatry, these two species do not regularly interbreed; however, a stabilized hybrid form (Passer italiae) exists on the Italian Peninsula and on several Mediterranean islands. The spatial distribution pattern on the Eurasian continent strongly contrasts the situation in North Africa, where house sparrows and Spanish sparrows occur in close vicinity of phenotypically intermediate populations across a broad mosaic hybrid zone. In this study, we investigate patterns of divergence and admixture among the two parental species, stabilized and nonstabilized hybrid populations in Italy and Algeria based on a mitochondrial marker, a sex chromosomal marker, and 12 microsatellite loci. In Algeria, despite strong spatial and temporal separation of urban early-breeding house sparrows and hybrids and rural late-breeding Spanish sparrows, we found strong genetic admixture of mitochondrial and nuclear markers across all study populations and phenotypes. That pattern of admixture in the North African hybrid zone is strikingly different from i) the Iberian area of sympatry where we observed only weak asymmetrical introgression of Spanish sparrow nuclear alleles into local house sparrow populations and ii) the very homogenous Italian sparrow population where the mitogenome of one parent (P. domesticus) and the Z-chromosomal marker of the other parent (P. hispaniolensis) are fixed. The North African sparrow hybrids provide a further example of enhanced hybridization along with recent urbanization and anthropogenic land-use changes in a mosaic landscape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12710-12726
Number of pages17
JournalEcology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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