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A genetic hybrid is the offspring of when two different, but closely related animals, mate. Generally, they are less biologically fit than their parents. They're usually sterile and often die as a result of various environmental reasons. Occasionally, however, a hybrid will pop up that's better suited to its environment than it's parents. A recent example of this happening is with wolves, coyotes and dogs forming a canine species in the Eastern United states. Known as the eastern coyote, others call it 'coywolf'. It all started 200 years ago in southern Ontario when wolf populations started to dwindle. At the same time, the clearing of forests allowed more coyotes to move into the area, and the farmers moved in with dogs. DNA analysis by biologist Javier Monzón, found the hybrids to be mostly coyote with 25 percent wolf and 10 percent dog, with seemingly the best traits from each. The animals have dogs' intelligence and wolves' ability to survive in forest environments, making them hardy and adaptable.
Other hybrids are being discovered in the wild often. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found a new salamander hybrid that contradicted traditional wisdom. This new hybrid came a from cross between endangered Native California tiger salamanders, and barred tiger salamanders introduced in California in the 50s by fisherman who brought the larva from Texas as bait. While the native tiger salamander population was declining, the hybrids have been having more success over the past few decades. This leads causes some questions for conservationists: does this new hybrid hurt or help the native population? Technically, it's muddling up the gene pool, but if it helps prevent the California tiger salamander from disappearing, that's obviously a good thing. So while hybridization is still rare, it's a fascinating phenomenon for biologists and gives us a glimpse into the evolutionary process happening in real time.
Greater than the sum of its parts (The Economist)
"It is rare for a new animal species to emerge in front of scientists' eyes. But this seems to be happening in eastern North America"
Hybrid vigor between native and introduced salamanders raises new challenges for conservation (PNAS)
"Hybridization between differentiated lineages can have many different consequences depending on fitness variation among hybrid offspring. When introduced organisms hybridize with natives, the ensuing evolutionary dynamics may substantially complicate conservation decisions."