Gis-based niche models reveal unifying climatic mechanisms that maintain the location of avian hybrid zones in a North American suture zone

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The existence of suture zones in North America has recently been verified, yet the environmental factors responsible for the maintenance of their structure and position have remained undetermined. The Great Plains suture zone in the US is perhaps the most significant and broadly studied in North America. Numerous avian hybrid zones that cluster in this region have been extensively studied over the last half-century. A primary result of this work is that exogenous factors present in this region have promoted and maintained avian species divergence. Yet, to date the variables most important in the generation and the clustered positioning of these hybrid zones in relation to one another have not been determined. The present study aims to advance our understanding of this North American suture zone by using niche modelling to quantify which environmental variables are most important in its formation and maintenance. Through the generation of fundamental niches for four hybrids and their parental species, similarities linking the hybrid zones were uncovered. The results show that temperature holds this suture zone in position and also suggest that temperature played a primary role in promoting niche differentiation among these sister species pairs during Pleistocene glacial cycles.

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