Center for Environment Speaker: ‘Human Interference Can Cause Hybridization’

04/15/13 by Rebecca Rider

Wildlife ecologist Amanda Chunco talked about hybridization in amphibians as a conservation issue.

Wildlife ecologist Amanda Chunco told an audience April 13 that human interference can cause hybridization, which is mating and producing offspring between two separate species.  Her talk, Hybridization in Amphibians as a Conservation Issue, dealt with the complexities of species hybrids and their potential impacts on original populations.

Chunco, an assistant professor of Environmental Studies at Elon University, spoke at the Center for the Environment facility on the Catawba College campus after an excursion into the Fred Stanback Ecological Preserve allowed young students to encounter and learn about reptiles and amphibians.

Chunco said that hybridization, especially as it relates to conservation, is “a complicated issue.” Hybridization is a natural phenomenon that occurs in about 10 percent of plants and animals.

However, hybridization can occur as a result of human interference, as well. When non-native species are introduced into an environment, often by releasing pets or live bait, mature adults of the invasive species may mate with a native species, resulting in hybrids. Hybridization can also occur when habitats are altered or destroyed due to human intervention, causing one species to encroach on another’s territory. If the species are similar enough, cases of mistaken identity are common and can result in hybrids.

While hybrids can be more adaptive than their parents, often this is not the case.  Hybrids are frequently unviable, and can have negative impacts on the parent species and the surrounding ecosystem. Some are voracious eaters, seriously depleting the food supply or becoming cannibalistic, devouring their siblings and parents. Hybrids tend to have reduced fitness and often weaken the genetic pool and result in the loss of rare species.

One issue in the scientific community, Chunco said, is whether or not hybrids of rare or endangered species should be protected. As a hybrid can negatively impact the parent population, this could be devastating for rare species.  There have been many recorded cases of hybrids causing the extinction of their parent species, Chunco said. However, it could also ensure the survival of those genes and result in a new, hardier species. “Speciation never happens through any other method,” Chunco said.

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