After speciation, two species may recombine or even continue interacting indefinitely. Individual organisms will mate with any nearby individual with whom they are capable of breeding. We call an area where two closely related species continue to interact and reproduce, forming hybrids a hybrid zone. Over time, the hybrid zone may change depending on the fitness of the hybrids and the reproductive barriers (Figure). If the hybrids are less fit than the parents, speciation reinforcement occurs, and the species continue to diverge until they can no longer mate and produce viable offspring. If reproductive barriers weaken, fusion occurs and the two species become one. Barriers remain the same if hybrids are fit and reproductive: stability may occur and hybridization continues.
If two species eat a different diet but one of the food sources is eliminated and both species are forced to eat the same foods, what change in the hybrid zone is most likely to occur?
Hybrids can be either less fit than the parents, more fit, or about the same. Usually hybrids tend to be less fit; therefore, such reproduction diminishes over time, nudging the two species to diverge further in a process we call reinforcement. Scientists use this term because the hybrids' low success reinforces the original speciation. If the hybrids are as fit or more fit than the parents, the two species may fuse back into one species (Figure). Scientists have also observed that sometimes two species will remain separate but also continue to interact to produce some individuals. Scientists classify this as stability because no real net change is taking place.