• cutthroat trout;
  • ecological segregation;
  • hybridization;
  • species-specific markers;
  • selection;
  • steelhead


Hybridization between sympatric species provides unique opportunities to examine the contrast between mechanisms that promote hybridization and maintain species integrity. We surveyed hybridization between sympatric coastal steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus) and coastal cutthroat trout (O. clarki clarki) from two streams in Washington State, Olsen Creek (256 individuals sampled) and Jansen Creek (431 individuals sampled), over a 3-year period. We applied 11 O. mykiss-specific nuclear markers, 11 O. c. clarki-specific nuclear markers and a mitochondrial DNA marker to assess spatial partitioning among species and hybrids and determine the directionality of hybridization. F1 and post-F1 hybrids, respectively, composed an average of 1.2% and 33.6% of the population sampled in Jansen Creek, and 5.9% and 30.4% of the population sampled in Olsen Creek. A modest level of habitat partitioning among species and hybrids was detected. Mitochondrial DNA analysis indicated that all F1 hybrids (15 from Olsen Creek and five from Jansen Creek) arose from matings between steelhead females and cutthroat males implicating a sneak spawning behaviour by cutthroat males. First-generation cutthroat backcrosses contained O. c. clarki mtDNA more often than expected suggesting natural selection against F1 hybrids. More hybrids were backcrossed toward cutthroat than steelhead and our results indicate recurrent hybridization within these creeks. Age analysis demonstrated that hybrids were between 1 and 4 years old. These results suggest that within sympatric salmonid hybrid zones, exogenous processes (environmentally dependent factors) help to maintain the distinction between parental types through reduced fitness of hybrids within parental environments while divergent natural selection promotes parental types through distinct adaptive advantages of parental phenotypes.