Gene flow and hybridization between numerically imbalanced populations of two duck species in the Falkland Islands

Kevin G. McCracken, Robert E. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Interspecific hybridization is common in plants and animals, particularly in waterfowl (Anatidae). One factor shown to contribute to hybridization is restricted mate choice, which can occur when two species occur in sympatry but one is rare. The Hubbs principle, or "desperation hypothesis," states that under such circumstances the rarer species is more likely to mate with heterospecifics. Here we report interspecific hybridization between two waterfowl species that coexist in broad sympatry and mixed flocks throughout southern South America. Speckled teal (Anas flavirostris) and yellow-billed pintails (Anas georgica) are abundant in continental South America, but in the Falkland Islands speckled teal outnumber yellow-billed pintails approximately ten to one. Using eight genetic loci (mtDNA and 7 nuclear introns) coupled with Bayesian assignment tests and relatedness analysis, we identified a speckled teal x yellow-billed pintail F 1 hybrid female and her duckling sired by a male speckled teal. Although our sample in the Falkland Islands was small, we failed to identify unequivocal evidence of hybridization or introgression in a much larger sample from Argentina using a three-population "isolation with migration" coalescent analysis. While additional data are needed to determine if this event in the Falkland Islands was a rare singular occurrence, our results provide further support for the "desperation hypothesis," which states that scarcity in one population and abundance of another will often lead to hybridization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23173
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 26 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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