Detecting hybridization between wild species and their domesticated relatives.
The widespread occurrence of free-ranging domestic or feral carnivores (dogs, cats) or ungulates (pigs, goats), and massive releases of captive-reproduced game stocks (galliforms, waterfowl) is raising fear that introgressive hybridization with wild populations might disrupt local adaptations, leading to population decline and loss of biodiversity. Detecting introgression through hybridization is problematic if the parental populations cannot be sampled (unlike in classical stable hybrid zones), or if hybridization is sporadic. However, the use of hypervariable DNA markers (microsatellites) and new statistical methods (Bayesian models), have dramatically improved the assessment of cryptic population structure, admixture analyses and individual assignment testing. In this paper, I summarize results of projects aimed to identify occurrence and extent of introgressive hybridization in European populations of wolves (Canis lupus), wildcats (Felis silvestris), rock partridges and red-legged partridges (Alectoris graeca and Alectoris rufa), using genetic methods. Results indicate that introgressive hybridization can be locally pervasive, and that conservation plans should be implemented to preserve the integrity of the gene pools of wild populations. Population genetic methods can be fruitfully used to identify introgressed individuals and hybridizing populations, providing data which allow evaluating risks of outbreeding depression. The diffusion in the wild of invasive feral animals, and massive restocking with captive-reproduced game species, should be carefully controlled to avoid loss of genetic diversity and disruption of local adaptations.