The rapidly declining Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is of conservation concern owing in part to hybridization with the closely related Blue-winged Warbler (V. pinus). These species hybridize extensively in eastern North America and over the past century the Blue-winged Warbler has displaced the Golden-winged Warbler from substantial regions of its historic breeding range. A previous study suggested that these genetic interactions result in rapid and asymmetric introgression of Blue-winged Warbler mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) into Golden-winged phenotype populations within the zones of contact, but more recent and extensive surveys have documented a more complex pattern of genetic interchange between these taxa. We surveyed mtDNA/phenotype associations in 104 individuals of known phenotype drawn from two locations with different histories of contact and found substantial variation between sites in the extent of introgression. Where both species have co-existed for more than a century, we found evidence of bi-directional introgression and the long-term persistence of Golden-winged mtDNA haplotypes. At the leading edge of the northward expansion of Blue-winged Warblers, we found predominantly Golden-winged Warbler mtDNA haplotypes in both Golden-winged and hybrid-phenotype individuals. Across both sites, genetic swamping does not appear to be occurring via the early immigration of Blue-winged Warbler females into populations dominated by Golden-winged Warbler phenotypes. Instead, the differing patterns of mitochondrial introgression may be driven by the relative local population sizes of the parental species coupled with subtle between-species differences in mate choice and habitat preferences.
Blood samples taken