Phenotypic variation across chromosomal hybrid zones of the common shrew (Sorex araneus) indicates reduced gene flow

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 10;8(7):e67455. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067455. Print 2013.


Sorex araneus, the Common shrew, is a species with more than 70 karyotypic races, many of which form parapatric hybrid zones, making it a model for studying chromosomal speciation. Hybrids between races have reduced fitness, but microsatellite markers have demonstrated considerable gene flow between them, calling into question whether the chromosomal barriers actually do contribute to genetic divergence. We studied phenotypic clines across two hybrid zones with especially complex heterozygotes. Hybrids between the Novosibirsk and Tomsk races produce chains of nine and three chromosomes at meiosis, and hybrids between the Moscow and Seliger races produce chains of eleven. Our goal was to determine whether phenotypes show evidence of reduced gene flow at hybrid zones. We used maximum likelihood to fit tanh cline models to geometric shape data and found that phenotypic clines in skulls and mandibles across these zones had similar centers and widths as chromosomal clines. The amount of phenotypic differentiation across the zones is greater than expected if it were dissipating due to unrestricted gene flow given the amount of time since contact, but it is less than expected to have accumulated from drift during allopatric separation in glacial refugia. Only if heritability is very low, Ne very high, and the time spent in allopatry very short, will the differences we observe be large enough to match the expectation of drift. Our results therefore suggest that phenotypic differentiation has been lost through gene flow since post-glacial secondary contact, but not as quickly as would be expected if there was free gene flow across the hybrid zones. The chromosomal tension zones are confirmed to be partial barriers that prevent differentiated races from becoming phenotypically homogenous.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chimera / anatomy & histology
  • Chimera / genetics
  • Chromosomes / genetics*
  • Europe
  • Gene Flow / physiology*
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Hybridization, Genetic / physiology*
  • Organ Size
  • Phenotype
  • Russia
  • Shrews / anatomy & histology
  • Shrews / genetics*
  • Skull / anatomy & histology

Grant support

The authors are grateful to an INTAS Cooperation Project grant and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR) for funding the study of the Novosibirsk-Tomsk and Moscow-Seliger hybrid zones. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.