Experimental analysis of the evolutionary potential of hybridization in leopard frogs (Anura: Ranidae)


Artificial crossing using Rana blairi and R. sphenocephala frogs produced conspecific, interspecific and F1 backcross hybrid genotypes. Although hybrid males used in the crosses were sterile, crosses using hybrid females produced viable larvae. The larval performance of resultant parental and hybrid genotypes was measured in experimental ponds at two densities. Density significantly affected survival, body mass at metamorphosis, larval period length and metamorphosis for all genotypes. Survival was the same among genotypes, but decreased with increasing density. Body mass at metamorphosis was the same among genotypes, but decreased with increasing density. Larval period increased with increasing density. Among genotypes, larvae from the conspecific R. sphenocephala cross had the shortest larval period while larvae from the conspecific R. blairi cross had the longest larval period. All hybrid genotypes had larval periods longer than R. sphenocephala, but shorter than R. blairi. The percentage of individuals metamorphosing was highest for R. sphenocephala ponds and lowest for R. blairi ponds across densities. Ponds with hybrid larvae produced a greater proportion of metamorphs than those with R. blairi larvae, but a smaller proportion than R. sphenocephala ponds. Equivalent or increased relative larval performance of hybrid genotypes under the conditions of our experiment suggests that hybrid genotypes may possess similar or higher fitnesses relative to their progenitors in some environments. Reduced fertility of adult hybrid males is a powerful selective force against natural hybridization. Nevertheless, because of the successful reproduction by female hybrids, natural hybridization has the potential to serve as a mechanism for the introgression of novel genetic variation that can benefit both R. blairi and R. sphenocephala in fluctuating and unpredictable larval environments. Experimental determination of the fitness of parental and hybrid genotypes is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the effects of hybridization on organismal evolution.

Publication Title

Journal of Evolutionary Biology