- The production of novel hybrid zones is an ecologically important consequence of globally increasing rates of species introductions and invasions. Interspecific hybridization can facilitate gene flow between parent species or produce novel taxa that may alter invasion dynamics or ecosystem services. The coastal sand dunes of the U.S. Pacific Northwest coast are densely populated by two non-native, congeneric, dune-building beachgrasses (Ammophila arenaria and A. breviligulata). Here, we present morphological, cytological, and genetic evidence that the two beachgrass species have hybridized in this globally unique range overlap. The A. arenaria × A. breviligulata hybrid has been found at 12 coastal sites in Washington and Oregon. It is a first-generation hybrid between the beachgrass species as evidenced by genome size comparisons and single nucleotide polymorphism genotyping. It is intermediate between the parent grasses in many morphological characters but exceeds both parents in shoot height, a trait associated with dune-building potential. Understanding the ecological and population genetic consequences of this novel hybridization event is of the utmost importance in a system where any change in dominant beachgrass species can have large effects on both biodiversity management and coastal protection.
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