OPEN PloS one | 26 Mar 2015
T Chouvenc, EE Helmick and NY Su
While hybridization of an invasive species with a native species is a common occurrence, hybridization between two invasive species is rare. Formosan subterranean termites (Coptotermes formosanus) and Asian subterranean termites (C. gestroi) are both ecologically successful and are the two most economically important termite pests in the world. Both species have spread throughout many areas of the world due to human activity; however, their distributions overlap in only three narrow areas because of distinct ecological requirements. In south Florida, where C. formosanus and C. gestroi are both invasive, the dispersal flight seasons of both species overlapped for the first time on record in 2013 and 2014. Pairings of heterospecific individuals were readily observed in the field and C. gestroi males preferentially engaged in mating behavior with C. formosanus females rather than females from their own species. In the laboratory, heterospecific and conspecific pairings had an equal colony establishment rate, but heterospecific incipient colonies had twice the growth rate of conspecific incipient colonies, suggesting a potential case of hybrid vigor. As all pre-zygotic barriers were lifted between the two species in the field, the apparent absence of post-zygotic barriers in the laboratory raises the possibility for introgressive hybridization in south Florida. While laboratory observations remain to be confirmed in the field, and the alate hybrid fertility is currently unknown, our results raise a tangible concern about the hybridization of two major destructive pest species. Such hybridization would likely be associated with a new economic impact.
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