Aim Suture zones are areas where closely related species from different biogeographical regions come into contact and interbreed. This concept originated from the study of terrestrial ecosystems but it remains unclear whether a similar phenomenon occurs in the marine environment. Here we investigate a potential suture zone from a previously unknown hybrid hotspot at the Socotra Archipelago (Yemen), located in the Arabian Sea, where fauna from the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, western Indian Ocean and greater Indo- Polynesian Province intersect. Location Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. Methods Putative hybrid reef fish were identified based on intermediate coloration and morphology. Underwater observations and collections were conducted to determine: (1) whether parent species form heterospecific social groups or breeding pairs; (2) the sex and reproductive status of morphologically intermediate individuals; and (3) whether parent species were forming mixed species associations owing to a dearth of conspecific partners. To support hybrid status, morphologically intermediate and parental individuals were genotyped using mitochondrial DNA cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI), nuclear recombination-activating gene 2 (RAG2) and the nuclear TMO-4C4 (TMO) gene. Results We observed putative hybrids involving 14 species from four reef fish families at Socotra. Most cases involved a parental species with a restricted distribution (e.g. Red Sea or Arabian Sea) and a broadly distributed Indo-Pacific species. In most cases, at least one of the parent species was rare at Socotra. Hybrid gene flow was largely unidirectional, and although introgression was rare, we found evidence that some butterflyfish and surgeonfish hybrids were fertile and formed breeding groups with parental species. Main conclusions The rate of hybrid discovery at Socotra is much greater than that recorded elsewhere in the marine environment and involved both allopatric and sympatric species. This study highlights the importance of biogeographical location, reef habitat, environmental conditions and abundance disparities at Socotra in potentially facilitating hybridization among reef fishes at the edge of their distribution.
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