Mate choice and hybridization within swordtail fishes (Xiphophorus spp.) and wood warblers (family Parulidae)
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Behavioral isolation is an important barrier to gene flow, contributing to the formation and maintenance of animal species. Nevertheless, hybridization occurs more commonly than is generally recognized, occurring in over ten percent of animal species in the wild. Although the genetic consequences of hybridization are of considerable interest given their evolutionary implications, the reasons that animals choose to mate with other species are less clear. I apply mate choice theory to the question of hybridization, using wood warblers (family Parulidae) and swordtail fishes (genus Xiphophorus) as study systems. Over half of the 45 species of North American wood warbler have produced hybrids. Using comparative methods, I address the questions: Do ecological and demographic factors predict hybridization in this family? Similarly, how do phylogeny, song similarity, and sympatry with congeners correlate with hybridization? As with North American wood warblers, behavioral isolation is also considered of primary importance in isolating sympatric species of swordtail fishes. Two species, X. birchmanni and X. malinche, hybridize in several locations in the wild. Through experimentation with these and other Xiphophorus species, I investigate some of the factors that cause female mate choice to vary, possibly contributing to hybridization. Specifically, I address the following questions: Do females become less choosy when predation risk is high, or encounter rates with conspecifics are low? Are female preferences for conspecifics innate, or can they be modified by experience? And, do female preferences for conspecifics vary among species, populations, or experiments? These studies illustrate the utility of treating hybridization as just another possible outcome of variation in mate choice. I find that warbler hybridization correlates with ecological and other variables, that female swordtails become more responsive to heterospecifics when mate choice is costly, and that female preferences for conspecifics are species- and context-dependent. As animal hybridization can have important evolutionary consequences, studying the factors that contribute to this variation can enhance our understanding of the evolutionary process.