Conservation Genetics

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 141–155 | Cite as

A genetic mechanism of species replacement in European waterfrogs?

  • Christoph Vorburger
  • Heinz-Ulrich ReyerEmail author


Introduced Rana ridibunda currentlyreplace the native waterfrogs R. lessonaeand R. esculenta in several areas ofcentral Europe. The unusual reproductive systemin waterfrogs of the Rana esculentacomplex suggests that this replacement may bedriven by a genetic mechanism: Ranaesculenta, a hybrid between R. ridibundaand R. lessonae, eliminates the lessonae genome from the germline and clonallytransmits the ridibunda genome(hybridogenesis). Hybrids form mixedpopulations with R. lessonae (L-E-system)in which they persist by backcrossing with theparental species. Matings between hybrids areunsuccessful, because their ridibundagenomes contain fixed recessive deleteriousmutations. When introduced into a L-E-system,R. ridibunda can mate with both nativetaxa, producing R. ridibunda offspringwith R. esculenta, and R. esculentaoffspring with R. lessonae (primaryhybridizations). If primary hybrids arehybridogenetic, they produce viable R.ridibunda offspring in matings with otherhybrids, because their clonal genomes areunlikely to share the deleterious allelespresent in the ancient clones. Thus, R.ridibunda will increase in the population atthe expense of both native taxa, eventuallyleaving a pure R. ridibunda population.We provide three lines of evidence for thisprocess from a currently invaded population inSwitzerland: (1) Primary hybridizations takeplace, as roughly 10% of hybrids in thepopulation possess ridibunda genomesderived from the introduced frogs. (2)Hybridogenesis occurs in primary hybrids,although at a low frequency. (3) Many hybrid ×hybrid matings in the population indeed produceviable offspring. Hence, the proposed geneticmechanism appears to contribute to the speciesreplacement, although its importance may belimited.

clonal inheritance hybridization hybridogenesis Rana esculenta complex species invasion 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of ZoologyUniversity of ZürichZürichSwitzerland;

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