The production of hybrids with high ecological amplitude between exotic Spartina densiflora and native S. maritima in the Iberian Peninsula


Correspondence: Jesús M. Castillo, Departamento de Biología Vegetal y Ecología, Universidad de Sevilla, Ap. 1095, 41080 Sevilla, Spain.


Aim  Hybridization is a common and potent mechanism of plant evolution that has the potential to be evolutionary significant in its own right, and hybrids are common between invasive and native congeneric species. Our aims were to document the existence and nature of new Spartina hybrids arising between introduced Spartina densiflora and native S. maritima in tidal marshes of the Iberian Peninsula, to examine the actual and potential range of hybrids in the intertidal zone, and to analyse the seed set of hybrids.

Location  South-West Iberian Peninsula.

Methods  Hybrids were characterized using chloroplast and nuclear DNA, and ploidy assessments. The ecological tolerance of the hybrids was studied using vegetation surveys and transplant experiments.

Results  We found that both parental species have been seed parents to hybrids and that all hybrids had an additive pattern of species-specific nuclear markers consistent with F1 hybrids. Hybrid chromosome numbers varied between 2n = ca. 65 and 2n = ca. 94–97, while S. maritima had 2n = ca. 60 and S. densiflora had 2n = ca. 70. Hybrids grew in three discrete locations along the intertidal zone but were capable of growing throughout the ranges of both parental species in transplanted gardens, and in most cases, grew better than the parental species. While the potential exists for the origination of another invasive Spartina hybrid species, thus far hybrid plants are not fertile, limiting their ability to invade and spread.

Main conclusions  We recommend the eradication of all of the currently quite limited hybrid cordgrass and to fight the S. densiflora invasion in the Iberian Peninsula to prevent the origination of a new invasive allopolyploid Spartina species.