Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Ecology and Evolution








Hybrid zones allow for the investigation of incipient speciation and related evolutionary processes of selection, gene flow, and migration. Interspecific dynamics, like competition, can impact the size, shape, and directional movement of species in hybrid zones. Hybrid zones contribute to a paradox for the biological species concept because interbreeding between species occurs while parental forms remain distinct. A long‐standing zone of intergradation or introgression exists for eastern and western mosquito fish (Gambusia holbrooki and G. affinis) around Mobile Bay, AL. The region has been studied episodically, over decades, making it perfect for addressing temporal dynamics and for providing a deeper understanding of the genetics of these periodically reclassified fishes (as species or subspecies). We used six microsatellite markers to assess the current population structure and gene flow patterns across 19 populations of mosquito fish and then compared our results with historical data. Genetic evidence demonstrates that the current hybrid zone is located in a similar geographic region as the historical one, even after three decades. Hybrid fish, however, demonstrate relatively low heterozygosity and are genetically distinct from western and eastern mosquito fish populations. Fin ray counts, sometimes used to distinguish the two species from one another, demonstrate more eastern (G. holbrooki) phenotype fish within the molecular genetic hybrid zone today. Mosquito fish are globally invasive, often found on the leading edge of flooded waters that they colonize, so the impact of hurricanes in the wake of climate change was also evaluated. An increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes in the hybrid region has occurred, and this point warrants further attention since hurricanes are known to move these aggressive, invasive species into novel territory. This work contributes to our classical understanding of hybrid zone temporal dynamics, refines our understanding of mosquito fish genetics in their native range, evaluates important genotype–phenotype relationships, and identifies a potential new impact of climate change.

Original Publication Citation

Wilk, R. J., & Horth, L. (2016). A genetically distinct hybrid zone occurs for two globally invasive mosquito fish species with striking phenotypic resemblance. Ecology and Evolution, 6(23), 8375-8388. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2562