Cross-breeding species could reduce their vulnerability to climate change, an Australian research has found.
In a study published on Tuesday, researchers from Flinders University and the University of Canberra found evidence that hybridization, the process of mixing different species, can reduce the risk of extinction of populations threatened by global warming.
The team traveled to the wet tropics in Australia's north-east to collect samples of five species of tropical rainbowfish along an elevational gradient.
Species from cooler higher-elevation habitats tend to have more difficulty adapting to environmental variation.
By analyzing genomic data from the samples, they discovered several pure and hybrid populations of rainbowfish and identified genes that enable them to adapt to climate variation across their habitats.
Chris Brauer, lead author of the study from Flinders University, said environmental models proved that populations of cool-adapted upland rainbowfish species that have bred with warm-adapted lowland species have a reduced vulnerability to future climates.
"These mixed populations contain more diversity at genes we think are important for climate adaptation, and are therefore more likely to persist in warmer environments," he said in a media release.
Researchers said their findings have significant implications for many species, comparing the concept to the historic mixing between the earliest modern humans and Neanderthals.
Luciano Beheregaray, director of the Flinders Molecular Ecology Lab, said the study highlighted the underappreciated value of hybrid populations.
"Our findings are good news for biodiversity. They indicate that genetic mixing is an important tool for conservation that can contribute to natural evolutionary rescue of species threatened by climate change."