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Open Access Research

Shape based assignment tests suggest transgressive phenotypes in natural sculpin hybrids (Teleostei, Scorpaeniformes, Cottidae)

Arne W Nolte1* and H David Sheets2

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Genetics, Evolutionary Genetics, Weyertal 121, 50931 Cologne, Germany

2 Dept. of Physics, Canisius College, 2001 Main St., Buffalo, NY 14208, USA

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Frontiers in Zoology 2005, 2:11  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-2-11

Published: 29 June 2005

Abstract

Background

Hybridization receives attention because of the potential role that it may play in generating evolutionary novelty. An explanation for the emergence of novel phenotypes is given by transgressive segregation, which, if frequent, would imply an important evolutionary role for hybridization. This process is still rarely studied in natural populations as samples of recent hybrids and their parental populations are needed. Further, the detection of transgressive segregation requires phenotypes that can be easily quantified and analysed. We analyse variability in body shape of divergent populations of European sculpins (Cottus gobio complex) as well as natural hybrids among them.

Results

A distance-based method is developed to assign unknown specimens to known groups based on morphometric data. Apparently, body shape represents a highly informative set of characters that parallels the discriminatory power of microsatellite markers in our study system. Populations of sculpins are distinct and "unknown" specimens can be correctly assigned to their source population based on body shape. Recent hybrids are intermediate along the axes separating their parental groups but display additional differentiation that is unique and coupled with the hybrid genetic background.

Conclusion

There is a specific hybrid shape component in natural sculpin hybrids that can be best explained by transgressive segregation. This inference of how hybrids differ from their ancestors provides basic information for future evolutionary studies. Furthermore, our approach may serve to assign candidate specimens to their source populations based on morphometric data and help in the interpretation of population differentiation.