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Am J Bot. 1998 Nov;85(11):1597-601.

Greater male fitness of a rare invader (Spartina alterniflora, Poaceae) threatens a common native (Spartina foliosa) with hybridization.

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  • 1Bodega Marine Laboratory, University of California, Box 247, Bodega Bay, California; and.


Hybridization with abundant invaders is a well-known threat to rare native species. Our study addresses mechanisms of hybridization between a rare invader, smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and the common native California cordgrass (S. foliosa) in the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay. These species are wind-pollinated and flower in summer. The invader produced 21-fold the viable pollen of the native, and 28% of invader pollen germinated on native stigmas (1.5-fold the rate of the native's own pollen). Invader pollen increased the seed set of native plants almost eightfold over that produced with native pollen, while native pollen failed to increase seed set of the invader. This pollen swamping and superior siring ability by the invader could lead to serial genetic assimilation of a very large native population. Unlike California cordgrass, smooth cordgrass can grow into low intertidal habitats and cover open mud necessary to foraging shorebirds, marine life, navigation, and flood control in channels. To the extent that intertidal range of the hybrids is more similar to the invader than to the native parent, introgression will lead to habitat loss for shore birds and marine life as well to genetic pollution of native California cordgrass.

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