Hybrid zones represent natural laboratories where divergent genomes interact, and therefore they provide powerful systems for testing the causes and consequences of reproductive isolation and have long been recognized as windows on the evolutionary process. They can also be studied to gain insight on ecological interactions and climate change. Researchers in the lab study a number of avian hybrid zones in this context.
Current work includes research on the black-capped / Carolina chickadee hybrid zone (in collaboration with Bob Curry at Villanova University) and combines temporally sampled genomic, distribution, and climate data to understand (1) the genetic architecture of reproductive isolation between hybridizing species and (2) how organisms are responding to environmental change.
This investigation has provided strong evidence that cold winter temperatures limit the northern extent of the Carolina Chickadee’s range, has confirmed the rapid northward movement of this zone of contact over the past decade, and has identified multiple regions of the chickadee genome that are likely involved in reproductive isolation.
We are using similar spatiotemporally sampled genomic, distributional, and climate data in other avian hybrid zones to investigate the temporal consistency of introgression, as well as species’ responses to climate change and habitat modification.