Hybrid zone dynamics and species replacement between Orconectes crayfishes in a northern Wisconsin lake

Evolution. 2001 Jun;55(6):1153-66. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2001.tb00635.x.


Hybrid zones that result in the genetic assimilation (replacement) of one species by another are underrepresented in the animal literature, most likely due to their transient nature. One such zone involves the rusty crayfish, Orconectes rusticus, and its congener O. propinquus. Orconectes rusticus was recently introduced into northern Wisconsin and Michigan lakes and streams, where it is hybridizing with and displacing resident O. propinquus. Here we report on a study investigating the dynamics of a hybrid zone between the two crayfish in Trout Lake, Wisconsin, where both the time (circa 1979) and location of the initial introduction are known. Our prediction was that hybridization should hasten the demise of O. propinquus because we expected that male O. rusticus (which are larger than congeners) would outcompete male O. propinquus for mates of both species. If hybrid progeny are unfit, then the result would be decreased reproductive output of O. propinquus females. However, we found a pattern of cytonuclear disequilibrium between allozymes and mtDNA suggesting that a majority (94.5%) of F1 hybrids resulted from matings between O. rusticus females and O. propinquus males. Also contrary to expectations, fecundity (O. rusticus and O. propinquus) and early hybrid survivorship did not differ significantly from nonhybrids. Moreover, adults of mixed ancestry were superior to both O. rusticus and O. propinquus in competition for a limiting food resource. Using a single-locus model, we estimated that hybridization increases the advance of O. rusticus genes in Trout Lake between 4.8% and 36.3% above that due to the previously documented ecological interactions. Consequently, whereas hybridization may be hastening the elimination of genetically pure O. propinquus, introgression is nevertheless slowing the loss of O. propinquus nuclear genes. Although our results suggest that O. rusticus and O. propinquus may not be true species under the biological concept, their ecological differences are of great conservation importance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astacoidea / genetics*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • DNA Primers
  • Female
  • Fertility / genetics
  • Fresh Water
  • Kinetics
  • Linkage Disequilibrium
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Sex Ratio
  • Species Specificity
  • Wisconsin


  • DNA Primers