Investigating Niche Segregation Across a Woodrat Hybrid Zone
-Dylan Klure, Marjorie Matocq, Denise Dearing
I am a 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate in Denise Dearing’s Lab within the School of Biological Sciences. I am originally from Southern California and performed my undergraduate education in Biology and Spanish at the University of Redlands. My current research is elucidating the behavioral and genetic mechanisms that facilitate the survival of herbivorous mammals in desert habitats. I enjoy cooking, hiking, and fishing.
Mammalian hybrid zones typically occur along sharp habitat gradients. This habitat heterogeneity limits interspecific gene flow by selecting against hybrid offspring when the parental species are locally adapted to different habitats. We investigated a hybrid zone between two herbivorous woodrat species, Bryant’s Woodrat (Neotoma bryanti) and desert woodrat (N. lepida) that occurs within a desert shrubland that lacks an obvious ecotone. We hypothesized without a transitionary habitat, fine-scale niche segregation in diet, nesting location, and mating behavior may be important maintenance factors at this site that limit interspecific geneflow. To test our hypotheses, we repeatedly trapped woodrat at this site over 2 years to quantify these animals’ diet, behavior, and genetics in order to understand the complex interactions that maintain this hybrid zone. Our data suggests that niche partitioning in diet may facilitate these species long-term co-occurrence at this site, despite weak selection against hybridization.
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