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Hybridization may facilitate in situ survival of endemic species through periods of climate change.

Predicting survival and extinction scenarios for climate change requires an understanding of the present day ecological characteristics of species and future available habitats, but also the adaptive potential of species to cope with environmental change. Hybridization is one mechanism that could facilitate this. Here we report statistical evidence that the transfer of genetic information through hybridization is a feature of species from the plant genus Pachycladon that survived the Last Glacial Maximum in geographically separated alpine refugia in New Zealand’s South Island. We show that transferred glucosinolate hydrolysis genes also exhibit evidence of intra-locus recombination. Such gene exchange and recombination has the potential to alter the chemical defence in the offspring of hybridizing species. We use a mathematical model to show that when hybridization increases the adaptive potential of species, future biodiversity will be best protected by preserving closely related species that hybridize rather than by conserving distantly related species that are genetically isolated.

Becker, M.,; Gruenheit, N.; Steel, M.; Voelckel, C.; Deusch, O.; Heenan, P.B.; McLenachan, P.A.; Kardailsky, O.; Leigh, J.W.; Lockhart, P. 2013. Hybridization may facilitate in situ survival of endemic species through periods of climate change. Nature Climate Change 3, 1039–1043.