Occurrence and extent of hybridisation between the invasive Mallard Duck and native Yellow-billed Duck in South Africa

  • Kirstin Stephens
  • John Measey
  • Chevonne Reynolds
  • Johannes J. Le RouxEmail author
Original Paper


Hybridisation between invasive and native species represents a significant threat to biodiversity. The Mallard Duck (Anas platyrhynchos) is known to hybridise with numerous closely related Anas species in regions where they have been introduced, threatening the genetic integrity of native ducks and in some instances contributing to their extinction risk. Mallard Ducks were introduced into South Africa in the 1940s and are now naturalised and widespread in the country. It has been speculated that Mallard Ducks are hybridising with native Yellow-billed Ducks (A. undulata) in South Africa, but evidence for this remains observational or purely anecdotal. Here we use data from nuclear microsatellite markers and mitochondrial DNA sequencing to show that hybridisation is indeed occuring between these two species. We found evidence for the occurance of hybridisation, mostly as crosses between Mallard Duck hens and Yellow-billed Duck drakes. Surprisingly, our results suggest that introgressive hybridisation is primarily occuring into the invasive Mallard Duck population (mostly Mallard Duck backcrosses were detected), evidenced by directionally-skewed gene flow and sex-biased mating. Whether these findings reflect true assortative mating or a case of Haldane’s rule remains unknown. We also found evidence of high connectivity between Yellow-billed Duck populations, as far as 1000 km apart, in South Africa. Taken together these results suggest that hybrid genotypes can disperse over vast distances between populations and lead to genetic pollution, even in the absence of invasive Mallard Ducks. Active management of Mallard Duck populations has been met by public resistance in some areas in South Africa, partly because of a lack of evidence showing clear impacts by these birds. This study provides some of the first scientifically-documented evidence for such impacts.


Anas Directional introgression Introgressive hybridisation Invasive bird Mallard Duck 



KS, JM and JlR would like to thank the DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology for funding. The Cape Town Environmental Education Trust is acknowleged for seed funding provided for this project.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 662 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and ZoologyStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.School of Animal, Plant and Environmental SciencesUniversity of WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  3. 3.FitzPatrick Institute of African OrnithologyUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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