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Rare genetic admixture and unidirectional gene flow between Vipera aspis and Vipera berus at their contact zone in western France

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posted on 11.05.2022, 06:52 authored by Valerie Zwahlen, Olivier Lourdais, Sylvain Ursenbacher, Gaëtan Guiller

Asp vipers (Vipera aspis) and adders (Vipera berus) coexist in the Loire-Atlantique department in France where the two species reach their respective range limits. This contact zone is of special interest since hybridization has been recently discovered there. We carried out extensive sampling to further investigate the hybrid status of morphologically typical individuals and to evaluate the proportion of genetically admixed individuals in this area. Using microsatellite markers, no hybrids with typical morphological traits of either asp vipers or adders were detected. All recently investigated individuals with intermediate morphological traits were shown to be hybrids. A rather low proportion of genetically admixed individuals (1.5–3%) and a very small number of supposed second-generation hybrids suggest reduced fertility of first-generation hybrids or low viability of their progeny. The investigation of mtDNA of newly sampled hybrids support the finding that hybridization only occurs between female V. aspis and male V. berus. Several possible explanations for the unidirectional hybridization are discussed and consequent future studies suggested.  

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