Does hybrid Phragmites australis differ from native and introduced lineages in reproductive, genetic, and morphological traits?
Premise of the Study: Hybridization between previously isolated species or lineages can stimulate invasiveness because of increased genetic diversity and inherited traits facilitating competitive and reproductive potential. We evaluated differences in stand characteristics and sexual and vegetative reproduction among native, introduced, and hybrid Phragmites australis lineages in the southwestern United States. We also assessed the degree of hybridization among lineages and backcrossing of hybrids with parental lineages. Methods: Growth and morphological characteristics were measured in native, introduced, and hybrid Phragmites stands to evaluate relative cover and dominance in associated plant communities. Panicles were collected from stands to evaluate germination, dormancy, and differences in seed traits. Seedlings from germination trials were genotyped to determine frequency of crossing and backcrossing among lineages. Key Results: Introduced and hybrid Phragmites stands had significantly greater stem and panicle densities than native stands and were more likely to be dominant members of their respective plant communities. Hybrid seed outputs were significantly greater, but hybrid seeds had lower germination rates than those from native and introduced lineages. We detected a novel hybridization event between native and introduced lineages, but found no strong evidence of hybrids backcrossing with parental lineages. Conclusions: Hybrid Phragmites in the Southwest exhibits reproductive, genetic, and morphological characteristics from both parental lineages that facilitate dispersal, establishment, and aggressive growth, including high reproductive output, rhizome viability, and aboveground biomass, with smaller seeds and greater genetic diversity than its progenitors. Our results show hybrids can inherit traits that confer invasiveness and provide insight for managing this species complex and other cryptic species with native and introduced variants with potential for intraspecific hybridization.