Genetic differentiation among Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) subspecies has been established in prior studies. These investigations also provided evidence for introgression and hybridization among taxa but were limited by a lack of samples from geographic regions where subspecies came into close contact. We analyzed new sets of samples from Northern Spotted Owls (NSO: S. o. caurina) and California Spotted Owls (CSO: S. o. occidentalis) in northern California using mitochondrial DNA sequences (mtDNA) and 10 nuclear microsatellite loci to obtain a clearer depiction of genetic differentiation and hybridization in the region. Our analyses revealed that a NSO population close to the northern edge of the CSO range in northern California (the NSO Contact Zone population) is highly differentiated relative to other NSO populations throughout the remainder of their range. Phylogenetic analyses identified a unique lineage of mtDNA in the NSO Contact Zone, and Bayesian clustering analyses of the microsatellite data identified the Contact Zone as a third distinct population that is differentiated from CSO and NSO found in the remainder of the subspecies' range. Hybridization between NSO and CSO was readily detected in the NSO Contact Zone, with over 50% of individuals showing evidence of hybrid ancestry. Hybridization was also identified among 14% of CSO samples, which were dispersed across the subspecies' range in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The asymmetry of hybridization suggested that the hybrid zone may be dynamic and moving. Although evidence of hybridization existed, we identified no F1 generation hybrid individuals. We instead found evidence for F2 or backcrossed individuals among our samples. The absence of F1 hybrids may indicate that (1) our 10 microsatellites were unable to distinguish hybrid types, (2) primary interactions between subspecies are occurring elsewhere on the landscape, or (3) dispersal between the subspecies' ranges is reduced relative to historical levels, potentially as a consequence of recent regional fires.
|Title||Genetic differentiation and inferred dynamics of a hybrid zone between Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) and California Spotted Owls (S. o. occidentalis) in northern California|
|Authors||Mark P. Miller, Thomas D. Mullins, Eric D. Forsman, Susan M. Haig|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Series Title||Ecology and Evolution|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center|