Especially on islands closer to the mainland, such as the Canary Islands, different lineages that originated by multiple colonization events could have merged by hybridization, which then could have promoted radiation events (Herben et al., J Ecol 93: 572-575, 2005; Saunders and Gibson, J Ecol 93: 649-652, 2005; Caujapé-Castells, Jesters, red queens, boomerangs and surfers: a molecular outlook on the diversity of the Canarian endemic flora, 2011). This is an alternative to the scenario where evolution is mostly driven by drift (Silvertown, J Ecol 92: 168-173, 2004; Silvertown et al., J Ecol 93: 653-657, 2005). In the former case hybridization should be reflected in the genetic structure and diversity patterns of island species. In the present work we investigate Micromeria from the Canary Islands by extensively studying their phylogeographic pattern based on 15 microsatellite loci and 945 samples. These results are interpreted according to the hypotheses outlined above.
Genetic structure assessment allowed us to genetically differentiate most Micromeria species and supported their current classification. We found that populations on younger islands were significantly more genetically diverse and less differentiated than those on older islands. Moreover, we found that genetic distance on younger islands was in accordance with an isolation-by-distance pattern, while on the older islands this was not the case. We also found evidence of introgression among species and islands.
These results are congruent with a scenario of multiple colonizations during the expansion onto new islands. Hybridization contributes to the grouping of multiple lineages into highly diverse populations. Thus, in our case, islands receive several colonization events from different sources, which are combined into sink populations. This mechanism is in accordance with the surfing syngameon hypothesis. Contrary to the surfing syngameon current form, our results may reflect a slightly different effect: hybridization might always be related to colonization within the archipelago as well, making initial genetic diversity to be high to begin with. Thus the emergence of new islands promotes multiple colonization events, contributing to the establishment of hybrid swarms that may enhance adaptive ability and radiation events. With time, population sizes grow and niches start to fill. Consequently, gene-flow is not as effective at maintaining the species syngameon, which allows genetic differentiation and reproductive isolation to be established between species. This process contributes to an even further decrease in gene-flow between species.