Speciation and Metabolic rate : Insights from an avian hybrid zone

Abstract: The role of divergent climate adaptation in speciation has received surprisingly little scientific attention. My dissertation research focused on how resting metabolic rate (RMR) relates to the build up of prezygotic and postzygotic isolation in a natural Ficedula flycatcher hybrid zone. RMR is the amount of energy an organism needs to run its internal organs. Since RMR is related to life history traits and thermoregulation in other systems, it is likely to affect speciation processes at secondary contact. I found that adult collared flycatchers displace pied flycatchers into increasingly poor habitats (Paper I). Pied nestlings exhibit lower RMR in poor environments (Paper II), which may promote regional coexistence and habitat isolation by making it possible for pied flycatchers to escape competition from collared flycatchers and reduce the risk of hybridization by breeding in the poorer habitats. Further, I found that while collared flycatcher nestling RMR was not environmentally-dependent (Paper II, Paper III), those collared flycatcher nestlings that had a lower RMR in poor environments tended to have higher condition (Paper III). Further, RMR was genetically linked to a sexual ornament in collared males that has previously been shown to be beneficial in poor environments. Lastly, I found that by seven days old, nestlings increase their metabolic rate when listening to song, indicating that they are listening, and by 9 days they can discriminate between songs (Paper IV). Taken together, RMR could affect pre-zygotic isolation via correlations with life history strategies, song and sexual ornaments. RMR is also related to post zygotic isolation in Ficedula flycatchers. I found that flycatcher hybrids tended to have a higher RMR than the parental species (Paper V), and that there were many differentially expressed genes in energetically expensive organs in hybrids that were related to metabolic function (Paper VI). Thus, metabolic dysfunction, possibly caused by genetic incompatibilities, in Ficedula flycatcher hybrids could be a factor leading to infertility and postzygotic isolation between the parental species. Overall, I find that RMR could be a general physiological trait that affects both pre- and postzygotic isolation in hybridizing species at secondary contact, and ought to be more thoroughly considered in speciation research.