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Journal of Herpetology


When evolutionarily divergent lineages adjoin their geographic ranges after a period of isolation, myriad outcomes can occur, from population anastomosis to the evolution of reproductive isolation by way of reinforcement. Hybrid zones represent natural experiments that may indicate whether lineages will maintain their evolutionary independence. Here, we report on a hybrid zone in the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander, Plethodon cinereus, a highly abundant and wide-ranging terrestrial salamander found in the northeastern United States and in southeastern Canada. An earlier study identified six distinct mitochondrial clades across the range of P. cinereus. Populations of two of these clades were as close as 9.6 km apart in Lorain County, Ohio, USA. To investigate the nature of this contact zone, we sampled 316 individuals from 16 sites along a 53-km transect, and analyzed 10 microsatellite loci and one mitochondrial locus. We found a clinal transition for mtDNA haplotypes. In contrast, most studies of terrestrial plethodontid salamanders commonly exhibit sharp boundaries between mtDNA clades. Microsatellite markers, however, revealed little differentiation and weak population structure, suggesting the nuclear cline, if it exists, lies outside of our sampling region. Explanations for the discordance between the mitochondrial DNA and our microsatellite data include lineage sorting, male-biased dispersal, or historical introgression of mtDNA, among other possibilities. We compare our results with other studies of introgression in terrestrial salamanders, and discuss the causes of mitonuclear discordance.