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Hybrid Sharks Show How Nature Adapts to Climate Change Hybrid Sharks Show How Nature Adapts to Climate Change
The Planet

Hybrid Sharks Show How Nature Adapts to Climate Change

by Emily Howard

January 8, 2012

Universal Studios Florida closed its Jaws ride this week, putting an end to the great white shark's reign of animatronic terror. But in the wild, a new breed of shark is rising.

Off the coast of Australia, researchers have identified the first hybrid shark—a genetic mashup of the common black tip and Australian black tip. The larger common black tip frequents cooler, temperate waters, while its smaller Australian counterpart stays largely in tropical temperatures. When the two mated, they created a shark with the physical characteristics of one species but the genetic sequencing of another.

The result is a more robust breed of shark with a timely adaptation: an increased coastal range. The researchers speculate that the interbreeding may help ensure the survival of the shark species in the face of climate change or fishing pressures. 

The hybridization of species generally occurs when closely-related species that evolved separately come back into contact. These two species of black tips may have gotten reacquainted as the waters at their normal territorial boundaries have warmed, resulting in an advantageous coupling. Researchers found 57 of these hybrid sharks that spanned multiple generations, meaning they've been breeding together for years. It looks like the black tip shark is determined to survive climate change. Will we?

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Xplore Dive

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Hybrid Sharks Show How Nature Adapts to Climate Change