Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biology (PhD)

Degree Level



Biological Sciences


Marlis R. Douglas

Committee Member

Michael E. Douglas

Second Committee Member

Andrew J. Alverson

Third Committee Member

Abraham E. Tucker


Colorado River, Conservation Biology, Hybridization, Introgression, Phylogenetics, Population genetics


Hybridization as a macroevolutionary mechanism has been historically underappreciated among vertebrate biologists. Yet, the advent and subsequent proliferation of next-generation sequencing methods has increasingly shown hybridization to be a pervasive agent influencing evolution in many branches of the Tree of Life (to include ancestral hominids). Despite this, the dynamics of hybridization with regards to speciation and extinction remain poorly understood. To this end, I here examine the role of hybridization in the context of historical divergence and contemporary decline of several threatened and endangered North American taxa, with the goal to illuminate implications of hybridization for promoting—or impeding—population persistence in a shifting adaptive landscape.

Chapter I employed population genomic approaches to examine potential effects of habitat modification on species boundary stability in co-occurring endemic fishes of the Colorado River basin (Gila robusta and G. cypha). Results showed how one potential outcome of hybridization might drive species decline: via a breakdown in selection against interspecific heterozygotes and subsequent genetic erosion of parental species.

Chapter II explored long-term contributions of hybridization in an evolutionarily recent species complex (Gila) using a combination of phylogenomic and phylogeographic modelling approaches. Massively parallel computational methods were developed (and so deployed) to categorize sources of phylogenetic discordance as drivers of systematic bias among a panel of species tree inference algorithms. Contrary to past evidence, we found that hypotheses of hybrid origin (excluding one notable example) were instead explained by gene-tree discordance driven by a rapid radiation.

Chapter III examined patterns of local ancestry in the endangered red wolf genome (Canis rufus) – a controversial taxon of a long-standing debate about the origin of the species. Analyses show how pervasive autosomal introgression served to mask signatures of prior isolation—in turn misleading analyses that led the species to be interpreted as of recent hybrid origin. Analyses also showed how recombination interacts with selection to create a non-random, structured genomic landscape of ancestries with, in the case of the red wolf, the ‘original’ species tree being retained only in low-recombination ‘refugia’ of the X chromosome.

The final three chapters present bioinformatic software that I developed for my dissertation research to facilitate molecular approaches and analyses presented in Chapters I–III. Chapter IV details an in-silico method for optimizing similar genomic methods as used herein (RADseq of reduced representation libraries) for other non-model organisms. Chapter V describes a method for parsing genomic datasets for elements of interest, either as a filtering mechanism for downstream analysis, or as a precursor to targeted-enrichment reduced-representation genomic sequencing. Chapter VI presents a rapid algorithm for the definition of a ‘most parsimonious’ set of recombinational breakpoints in genomic datasets, as a method promoting local ancestry analyses as utilized in Chapter III.

My three case studies and accompanying software promote three trajectories in modern hybridization research: How does hybridization impact short-term population persistence? How does hybridization drive macroevolutionary trends? and How do outcomes of hybridization vary in the genome? In so doing, my research promotes a deeper understanding of the role that hybridization has and will continue to play in governing the evolutionary fates of lineages at both contemporary and historic timescales.