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Open Access Research article

Historic hybridization and persistence of a novel mito-nuclear combination in red-backed voles (genus Myodes)

Amy M Runck1*, Marjorie D Matocq2 and Joseph A Cook3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho 83209, USA

2 Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89512, USA

3 Biology Department and Museum of Southwestern Biology University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:114  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-114

Published: 21 May 2009



The role of hybridization in generating diversity in animals is an active area of discovery and debate. We assess hybridization across a contact zone of northern (Myodes rutilus) and southern (M. gapperi) red-backed voles using variation in skeletal features and both mitochondrial and nuclear loci. This transect extends approximately 550 km along the North Pacific Coast of North America and encompasses 26 populations (n = 485). We establish the history, geographic extent and directionality of hybridization, determine whether hybridization is ongoing, and assess the evolutionary stability of novel genomic combinations.


Identification of M. rutilus and M. gapperi based on the degree of closure of the post-palatal bridge was concordant with the distribution of diagnostic nuclear MYH6 alleles; however, an 80 km zone of introgressed populations was identified. The introgressant form is characterized by having mitochondrial haplotypes closely related to the northern M. rutilus on a nuclear background and morphological characteristics of southern M. gapperi.


Introgression appears to have been historic as pure populations of M. rutilus are now isolated to the north from introgressants or pure M. gapperi by the LeConte Glacier. As we do not find pure M. rutilus or M. gapperi individuals throughout the distribution of the introgressant form, it appears that the introgressants are a self-sustaining entity not requiring continued hybridization between pure parental forms to generate this novel combination of characters.