, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 207-217

Conservation Implications of Invasion by Plant Hybridization

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The increasing number of invasive exotic plant species in many regions and the continuing alteration of natural ecosystems by humans promote hybridization between previously allopatric species; among both native as well as between native and introduced species. We review the ecological factors and mechanisms that promote such hybridization events and their negative consequences on biological diversity. Plant invasions through hybridization may occur in four different ways: hybridization between native species, hybridization between an exotic species and a native congener, hybridization between two exotics and by the introduction and subsequent spread of hybrids. The main harmful genetic effect of such hybrids on native species is the loss of both genetic diversity and of locally adapted populations, such as rare and threatened species. The spread of aggressive hybrid taxa can reduce the growth of, or replace, native species. The main factor promoting the formation of hybrids is species dispersal promoted by humans. However, the success and spread of hybrids is increased by disturbance and fragmentation of habitats, thus overcoming natural crossing barriers, and range expansions due to human activity. There are differences in flowering, pollination and seed dispersal patterns between parental species and hybrids. Hybrid resistance to pathogens and herbivores may also enhance the success of hybrids. To predict the mechanisms and consequences of invasions mediated by hybridization, extensive data on hybrid ecology and biology are needed, as well as carefully designed field experiments focused on the comparative ecology of parental populations and hybrids.