Hybrids have often been labelled evolutionary dead-ends due to their lower fertility and viability. However, there is growing awareness that hybridisation between different species may play a constructive role in animal evolution as a means to create variability. Thus, hybridisation and introgression may contribute to adaptive evolution, for example with regards to natural antagonists (parasites, predators, competitors) and adaptation to local environmental conditions. Here we investigated whether parasite intensity contributes to the continuous recreation of hybrids in 74 natural populations of Melanopsis, a complex of freshwater snails with three species. We also examined, under laboratory conditions, whether hybrids and their parental taxa differ in their tolerance of low and high temperatures and salinity levels. Infections were consistently less prevalent in males than in females, and lower in snails from deeper habitats. Infection prevalence in hybrids was significantly lower than in the parental taxa. Low hybrid infection rates could not be explained by sediment type, snail density or geographic distribution of the sampling sites. Interestingly, infected hybrid snails did not show signs of parasite-induced gigantism, whereas all parental taxa did. We found that hybrids mostly coped with extreme temperatures and salinity levels as well as their parental taxa did. Taken together, our results suggest that Melanopsis hybrids perform better in the presence of parasites and environmental stress. This may explain the widespread and long-term occurrence of Melanopsis hybrids as evidenced by paleontological and biogeographic data. Hybridisation may be an adaptive host strategy, reducing infection rates and resisting gigantism.
- Adaptive host strategy
- Snail-trematode interactions