Publisher: Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd
The relatively narrow hybrid zone between hooded and carrion crow is characterised by a high proportion of breeding hybrids, no known intrinsic postzygotic costs, and most likely, high gene flow between populations. It is therefore of interest to identify factors preventing a breakdown of the zone. In this study, we investigate the possibility that habitat choice could create assortative mating in the German-Danish part of the zone. In a GIS analysis, we used two approaches to investigate the role of habitat selection in the maintenance of this zone. We tested if there are 1) any correlations between habitat and the shape of the hybrid zone, and 2) any differences in habitat preferences between territorial individuals of the crow phenotypes. The most extensive habitat, non-irrigated arable land (Habitat 1), which covers almost 50% of the area in the zone was preferred by all three phenotypes (carrion, hooded and hybrid crows), but showed no change in frequency across the zone. Pastures (Habitat 2) and agricultural areas mixed with natural vegetation (Habitat 4) correlated with the shape of the zone, but only H4 differed in preference between the crow phenotypes. H4 was preferred by hybrids and hooded crows, but not by carrion crows. This habitat is present only in 17% of the hooded crow territories, and thus, it is not likely to have a strong influence on the maintenance of the hybrid zone. There was evidence of assortative mating in pure phenotypes, whereas hybrids showed no consistent mating pattern. Because our GIS analyses suggest that species specific habitat preferences are not involved in shaping the assortativeness, we discuss other possible mechanisms.