Ecological and Genetic Assessment of Spatial Structure Among Replicate Contact Zones Between two Topminnow Species
The spatial structure of contact zones is often described as disjunct, diffuse or mosaic and presumed to be related to underlying ecological gradients. However, the ecology of contact zones, how they are structured, and if that structure is predictable based on the strength and nature of ecological gradients is unknown. Large spatial scales and the unreplicated nature of many of the best studied contact zones has made it difficult to codify broader ecological patterns. Freshwater stream fish contact zones have the advantage of being potentially replicated with well defined boundaries and predictable linear gradients (river continuum concept). We sampled four replicate topminnow (Fundulus olivaceus and F. notatus) contact zones in Gulf of Mexico drainages. In each, we quantified contact zone spatial structure and the strength of ecological gradients (habitat, physicochemical variables and fish community functional traits). All three types of contact zone structure were represented. Systems with weaker gradients had diffuse contact zones, low species richness and were numerically dominated by generalist species. Rates of hybridization were also variable among systems. There was no hybridization detected in the mosaic zone while hybrids were found at most of the co-occurrence sites in the diffuse and disjunct zones. Overall, local ecology clearly influences contact zone structure and the two species interact in fundamentally different ways in these four systems.