Julia Harencar

UC Santa Cruz

“The genetics and ecology of species maintenance despite hybridization”

As a plant evolutionary biologist, I research how plant biodiversity arises and is maintained. Plant diversity is highest in the tropics, yet the mechanisms creating and maintaining this diversity are still not fully understood. I study the ecology and genetics of species boundaries between two closely related species that are adapted to distinct environments but hybridize in intermediate habitats. Hybridization can cause gene flow, which tends to erode genetic differentiation and species boundaries, yet these two species remain distinct. This provides an excellent natural laboratory for testing theories about how ecological traits and the underlying genetic architecture of differential adaptation maintain species in the face of gene flow. I leverage a combination of ecology, physiology, and genomics rarely used outside of model organisms to investigate this question.


With modern advances in genetic technology, hybridization causing gene flow between species has been found across the tree of life. Hybridization is predicted to break down species boundaries, yet examples abound of species maintenance despite hybridization; how is this possible? I combine genetics, ecology, and physiology to answer this question in a pair of recently diverged, hybridizing Neotropical Spiral gingers.

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