Trophic dynamics within a hybrid zone – interactions between an abundant cyprinid hybrid and sympatric parental species


Brian Hayden, School of Biological Sciences, Medical Biology Centre, Queens University, Belfast BT7 1LN, Ireland. E-mail:


1. Recent proliferation of hybridisation in response to anthropogenic ecosystem change, coupled with increasing evidence of the importance of ancient hybridisation events in the formation of many species, has moved hybridisation to the forefront of evolutionary theory.

2. In spite of this, the mechanisms (e.g. differences in trophic ecology) by which hybrids co-exist with parental taxa are poorly understood. A unique hybrid zone exists in Irish freshwater systems, whereby hybrid offspring off two non-native cyprinid fishes often outnumber both parental species.

3. Using stable isotope and gut content analyses, we determined the trophic interactions between sympatric populations of roach (Rutilus rutilus), bream (Abramis brama) and their hybrid in lacustrine habitats.

4. The diet of all three groups displayed little variation across the study systems, and dietary overlap was observed between both parental species and hybrids. Hybrids displayed diet, niche breadth and trophic position that were intermediate between the two parental species while also exhibiting greater flexibility in diet across systems.