Widespread hybridization between the Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga and the Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina (Aves: Accipitriformes) in Europe

Všli, ‹., V. Dombrovski, R. Treinys, U. Bergmanis, S. J. Darůczi, M. Dravecky, V. Ivanovski, J. Lontkowski, G. Maciorowski, B.-U. Meyburg, T. Mizera, R. Zeitz & H. Ellegren

Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 100: 725-736 (2010)


Hybridization is a significant threat for endangered species and could potentially even lead to their extinction. This concern applies to the globally vulnerable Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga, a species that co-occurs, and potentially interbreeds, with the more common Lesser Spotted Eagle Aquila pomarina in a vast area of Eastern Europe. We applied single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and microsatellite markers in order to study hybridization and introgression in 14 European spotted eagle populations. We detected hybridization and/or introgression in all studied sympatric populations. In most regions, hybridization took place prevalently between A. pomarina males and A. clanga females, with introgression to the more common A. pomarina. However, such a pattern was not as obvious in regions where A. clanga is still numerous. In the course of 16 years of genetic monitoring of a mixed population in Estonia, we observed the abandonment of A. clanga breeding territories and the replacement of A. clanga pairs by A. pomarina, whereby on several occasions hybridization was an intermediate step before the disappearance of A. clanga. Although the total number of Estonian A. clanga x A. pomarina pairs was twice as high as that of A. clanga pairs, the number of pairs recorded yearly were approximately equal, which suggests a higher turnover rate in interbreeding pairs. This study shows that interspecific introgressive hybridization occurs rather frequently in a hybrid zone at least 1700-km wide: it poses an additional threat for the vulnerable A. clanga, and may contribute to the extinction of its populations.