Demographic vital rates determine the performance advantage of crop-wild hybrids in lettuce.
Hybridization seems possible for many crop species after pollen transfer from crops to wild relatives in the surrounding vegetation. Subsequent introgression of crop-specific traits into wild relatives could lead to invasive introgressants. This process has become a public concern following the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops. Until now, few studies have used demographic vital rates to compare the performance of hybrids with their wild relatives. We created second-generation (S1 and BC1) hybrids between the non-transgenic crop Lactuca sativa and its entirely cross-fertile wild relative Lactuca serriola. Seeds of parents and hybrids were individually sown in field plots at three different locations. Next to germination and survival, we measured a range of single fitness components and morphological traits. We also compared observed phenotypes to phenotypes theoretically expected, according to different inheritance scenarios. Phenotypes of both hybrid classes resembled L. serriola closely, and more than theoretically expected. However, demographic vital rates, i.e. germination and survival of hybrids were much higher than in L. serriola. Our results indicate that hybrids between crop and wild Lactuca are phenotypically indistinguishable from the wild relative and thus will largely remain unnoticed when they occur. However, these hybrids could potentially become invasive because of substantial differences in vital rates and seeds returned per seed sown. Synthesis and applications. A comparative study on single fitness components, such as seed production, alone would not have revealed the performance advantage of crop-wild hybrids in Lactuca. Therefore, studying demographic vital rates of hybrids and back-crosses to test for long-term consequences of hybridization should be part of any risk assessment of GM crops. Demographic vital rates are also important for the development of predictive modelling tools that can be employed to test the individual- and population-level consequences of new-to-add traits.