Gene flow between an endangered endemic iguana, and its wide spread relative, on the island of Utila, Honduras: when is hybridization a threat?
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- Pasachnik, S.A., Fitzpatrick, B.M., Near, T.J. et al. Conserv Genet (2009) 10: 1247. doi:10.1007/s10592-008-9692-0
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The island endemic Ctenosaura bakeri was listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Redlist Assessment in 2004, 7 years after it was recognized as a distinct species. C. bakeri occupies a portion of Utila, a small continental island located off the northern coast of Honduras. Habitat destruction and over-harvesting are among the top threats facing this species. In addition, morphological evidence of hybridization was recently documented, raising the concern that gene flow from the common and widely distributed C. similis could threaten the genetic distinctiveness of C. bakeri. We show that hybridization occurs only at low levels and is not a current threat to C. bakeri. All ctenosaurs captured for this study were identified to species level without difficulty; none had intermediate or mosaic phenotypes. Sequence analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear markers revealed only two individuals with introgressed genotypes. Molecular analysis of the previously described hybrid showed it to be heterozygous for C. bakeri and C. similis alleles. Hybridization between these two species is possible and occurs occasionally in the wild, and the rate of hybridization could increase if habitat destruction or changes in relative abundance increase the probability of interbreeding. However, the level of gene flow indicated by current data is too low to threaten C. bakeri with genetic swamping or deleterious fitness effects.