Modelling the consequences of crop–wild relative gene flow: a sensitivity analysis of the effects of outcrossing rates and hybrid vigour breakdown in Lactuca


*Correspondence author. E-mail:


  • 1Hybridization between crops and their wild relatives may enhance invasiveness and change their niche dynamics. This is regarded as a major biosafety problem in terms of the development of noxious, invasive weeds and the loss of the genetic identity of native species. Modelling the consequences of hybridization is becoming an important tool for risk assessment.
  • 2We conducted a sensitivity analysis of a stochastic hybridization model, predicting changes in genotypic population composition. The model includes various classes of hybrids between Lactuca sativa (lettuce) and its wild relative L. serriola, and is based on empirical demographic measurements of fitness (λ).
  • 3We calculated the sensitivity of these transitions and of the following model parameters: outcrossing rate, the temporal frequency of crop presence, early hybrid fitness, hybrid vigour breakdown rate and assumed fitness of advanced generation hybrids.
  • 4In a non-stochastic simulation, the wild relative was displaced by more vigorous hybrids. The relative fitness of late generation hybrids in relation to the fitness of the wild taxon had the strongest effects on the population composition in the long term.
  • 5The outcrossing rate affected the estimated population composition strongly but the proportional impact of this parameter was low compared to the effect of hybrid fitness. Moreover, the stochastic simulations showed that the level of stochasticity had only a small effect on the sensitivity of population growth rates to changes in any of the model parameters, except for changes in the fitness of the wild taxon.
  • 6Synthesis and applications. It is essential to determine the relative fitness level of advanced generation hybrids, as this has a much stronger proportional effect than other factors. Future risk assessment should focus more on long-term fitness effects and not only on the outcrossing rate and the early establishment of hybrids. Experiments with multiple generations and analysis of hybrid vigour in modelling efforts would yield better predictions of which traits would be likely to introgress, and at what speed. This would be of benefit in the decision-making process and in future monitoring after crop release, for example of transgenes.