Hybrid speciation in anemonefishes

Hybrid speciation has been believed to be important by botanists, but for animals, only until recently when more and more hybrid evidence based on genetics are being discovered, hybridization is gathering attention for its constructive role in animal evolution.

Anemonefish, as well known for their symbiotic relationship with anemone species, is a young divergent taxon with 30 species clustered into two genera: Amphiprion and Premnas. Historical and contemporary interspecific hybridization among them has been reported, and according to the most recent genetic studies, two of the previously called species have been proved as hybrids. There is also evidence of the increasing coexistence of interspecific anemonefish due to the rapid loss of coral reef habitat. Thus, anemonefish is an ideal and interesting organism for studying animal hybridization.

I am curious about the current hybrid status among anemonefish and interested in the evolutionary consequence of hybridization driven by decreasing habitat. So, my PhD project will examine the network of hybrid and introgression among multiple anemonefish species from a genomic perspective. Then, I will be searching for which regions are actually introgressing between species and what are their potential roles in speciation of anemonefish. Also, I will be using the breeding system in UQ to explore the reproduction barriers of closely related species, like A. ocellaris and A. percula, and try to identify potential genomic islands of speciation. Specifically, I will try to identify the responsible gene of their colour and stripe patterns, which are critical for anemonefish to recognize conspecific and choose mating partners.

Hopefully, those studies can improve our understanding of anemonefish hybridization and offer more useful information to further research and conservation practice.