The genic view of hybridization in the Anthropocene

Ottenburghs, Jente


Human impact is noticeable around the globe, indicating that a new era might have begun: the Anthropocene. Continuing human activities, including land-use changes, introduction of non-native species and rapid climate change, are altering the distributions of countless species, often giving rise to human-mediated hybridization events. While the interbreeding of different populations or species can have detrimental effects, such as genetic extinction, it can be beneficial in terms of adaptive introgression or an increase in genetic diversity. In this paper, I first review the different mechanisms and outcomes of anthropogenic hybridization based on literature from the last five years (2016–2020). The most common mechanisms leading to the interbreeding of previously isolated taxa include habitat change (51% of the studies) and introduction of non-native species (34% intentional and 19% unintentional). These human-induced hybridization events most often result in introgression (80%). The high incidence of genetic exchange between the hybridizing taxa indicates that the application of a genic view of speciation (and introgression) can provide crucial insights on how to address hybridization events in the Anthropocene. This perspective considers the genome as a dynamic collection of genetic loci with distinct evolutionary histories, giving rise to a heterogenous genomic landscape in terms of genetic differentiation and introgression. First, understanding this genomic landscape can lead to a better selection of diagnostic genetic markers to characterize hybrid populations. Second, describing how introgression patterns vary across the genome can help to predict the likelihood of negative processes, such as demographic and genetic swamping, as well as positive outcomes, such as adaptive introgression. It is especially important to not only quantify how much genetic material introgressed, but also what has been exchanged. Third, comparing introgression patterns in pre-Anthropocene hybridization events with current human-induced cases might provide novel insights into the likelihood of genetic swamping or species collapse during an anthropogenic hybridization event. However, this comparative approach remains to be tested before it can be applied in practice. Finally, the genic view of introgression can be combined with conservation genomic studies to determine the legal status of hybrids and take appropriate measures to manage anthropogenic hybridization events. The interplay between evolutionary and conservation genomics will result in the constant exchange of ideas between these fields which will not only improve our knowledge on the origin of species, but also how to conserve and protect them.