Hybridization in headwater regions, and the role of rivers as drivers of speciation in Amazonian birds

Jason T. Weir, Maya S. Faccio, Paola Pulido-Santacruz, Alfredo O. Barrera-Guzmán, Alexandre Aleixo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


Many understory birds and other groups form genetically differentiated subspecies or closely related species on opposite sides of major rivers of Amazonia, but are proposed to come into geographic contact in headwater regions where narrower river widths may present less of a dispersal barrier. Whether such forms hybridize in headwater regions is generally unknown, but has important implications to our understanding of the role of rivers as drivers of speciation. We used a dataset of several thousand single nucleotide polymorphisms to show that seven taxon pairs that differentiate across a major Amazonian river come into geographic contact and hybridize in headwater regions. All taxon pairs possessed hybrids with low numbers of loci in which alleles were inherited from both parental species, suggesting they are backcrossed with parentals, and indicating gene flow between parental populations. Ongoing gene flow challenges rivers as the sole cause of in situ speciation, but is compatible with the view that the wide river courses in the heart of Amazonia may have driven interfluvial divergence during episodes of wet forest retraction away from headwater regions. Taxa as old as 4 Ma in our Amazonian dataset continue to hybridize at contact zones, suggesting reproductive isolation evolves at a slow pace.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1823-1834
Number of pages12
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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