Climate change outpaces adaptive potential via hybridization in nesting female Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrows

Academic Article


  • Abstract Hybridization and introgression can promote adaptive potential and evolutionary resilience in response to increased pressures of climate change; they can also disrupt local adaptation and lead to outbreeding depression. We investigated female fitness consequences of hybridization in two sister species that are endemic to a threatened tidal marsh ecosystem: Saltmarsh (Ammospiza caudacutus) and Nelson’s (Ammospiza nelsoni) sparrows. We found increasing nest flooding rates due to rising sea levels are outpacing potential adaptive benefits of hybridization due to very low overall nesting success in both the Nelson’s and Saltmarsh sparrows. In the center of the hybrid zone across two years, we determined the success of 201 nests of 104 pure and admixed Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrow females, genotyped using a panel of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from double digest restriction-site associated DNA (ddRAD) sequencing. We evaluated 5 metrics of female fitness and modeled nesting success in relation to genotypic, environmental, and nesting characteristics. We found differential fitness among Saltmarsh, Nelson’s, and hybrid females, such that birds with predominantly Saltmarsh Sparrow alleles had higher reproductive success than birds with predominantly Nelson’s Sparrows alleles, and hybrids were intermediate. Fledging success increased with two known tidal marsh nesting adaptations: nest height and nesting synchrony with tidal cycles. We found a positive relationship between hybrid index and fitness in daily nest survival in 2016, but not in 2017, likely due to differing levels of precipitation and nest flooding between years. The strongest and most consistent predictors of daily nest survival were nesting synchrony with lunar tidal flooding cycles and daily maximum tide height. Fitness patterns suggest that there may be an adaptive benefit of interspecific geneflow for the Nelson’s Sparrow at the detriment of the Saltmarsh Sparrow; however, flooding rates are so high in many years they mask any fitness differences between the species, and all females had poor nesting success, regardless of genetic makeup.
  • Authors

  • Maxwell, Logan M
  • Walsh, Jennifer
  • Olsen, Brian J
  • Kovach, Adrienne
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • September 27, 2023
  • Has Subject Area

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)


  • 140
  • Issue

  • 4