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Introgressive hybridization of threatened European tree frogs (Hyla arborea) by introduced H. intermedia in Western Switzerland
Hybridization by introduced taxa is a major threat to native species. Characterizing human introductions is thus one of the missions of conservation geneticists. Here we survey a declining population of the regionally endangered European tree frog (Hyla arborea) in the Grangettes natural reserve (Rhone valley, Western Switzerland), where previous evidence indicated human introduction of the Italian taxon H. intermedia. We combined fast-evolving mitochondrial and nuclear markers and an extended sampling to conduct population genetic analyses of the Grangettes and putative source areas. We show that the Grangettes population is a hybrid swarm, with all individuals featuring recent nuclear admixture and mitochondrial DNA of introduced H. intermedia, most likely of proximate south Alpine origin. In contrast, H. arborea and H. intermedia hardly introgress in their natural parapatric ranges, consistent with an advanced reproductive isolation. Thus, potential hybrid incompatibilities may account for the strong decline of this population, despite important conservation efforts. Although their hybrid nature makes them a priori unworthy of any protection, we propose specific measures to recover local H. arborea gene pool and preserve tree frogs in the Grangettes, the last population remaining from this heavily impacted part of the Alps.
Conservation, exotic species, human introduction, hybridization, Hyla
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