Hybrid gazelles in Iran
Interspecific hybridization increasingly occurs in the course of anthropogenic actions, such as species translocations and introductions, and habitat modifications or occurs in sympatric species due to the shortage of conspecific mates. Compared with anthropogenically caused hybridization, natural hybridization is more difficult to prove, but both play an important role in conservation. In this study, we detected hybridization of two gazelle sister species, Gazella bennettii (adapted to dry areas) and Gazella subgutturosa (adapted to open plains), in five habitat areas, where G. bennettii naturally occur in central Iran. The hybrids have a nuclear genomic identity (based on two introns), habitat preference, and phenotype of G. bennettii, but the mitochondrial identity (based on cyt b) of G. subgutturosa. We suggest that natural hybridization of female G. subgutturosa and male G. bennettii happened twice in central Iran in prehistoric times, based on the haplotype pattern that we found. However, we found indi-
cations of recent hybridization between both species under special circumstances, for example, in breeding centers, due to translocations, or in areas of sympatry due to the shortage of conspecific mates. Therefore, these two species must be kept separately in the breeding centers, and introduction of one of them into the habitat of the other must be strictly avoided.