Hybridization between white-headed ducks and introduced ruddy ducks in Spain

The ruddy duck, Oxyura jamaicensis, was introduced to Great Britain in the mid-20th
century and has recently spread to other Western European countries. In Spain, ruddy ducks hybridize with the globally endangered white-headed duck, Oxyura leucocephala. We assessed the effects of hybridization on the Spanish white-headed ducks, which constitute 25% of the global population of this species, using a panel of eight nuclear intron markers, 10 microsatellite loci, and mtDNA control region sequences. These data allowed parental individuals, F1
hybrids, and the progeny of backcrossing to be reliably distinguished. We show that hybrids between the two species are fertile and produce viable offspring in backcrosses with both parental species. To date, however, we found no extensive introgression of ruddy duck genes into the Spanish white-headed duck population, probably due to the early implementation of an effective ruddy duck and hybrid control programme. We also show that genetic diversity in the expanding European ruddy duck population, which was founded by just seven individuals, exceeds that of the native Spanish white-headed duck population, which recently recovered from a severe bottleneck. Unless effective control of ruddy ducks is continued, genetic introgression will compromise the unique behavioural and ecological adaptations of white-headed ducks and consequently their survival as a genetically and evolutionary distinct species.