1. Introgressive hybridization between two invasive species has the potential to contribute to their invasion success and provide genetic resiliency to rapidly adapt to new environments. Additionally, differences in the behaviour of hybrids may lead to deleterious ecosystem effects that compound any negative impacts of the invading parental species.
2. Invasive silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and bighead carp (H. nobilis) provide an opportunity to evaluate how hybridization may influence the behaviour, dispersal, and spread of an invasive species introgressive complex. In order to investigate the role hybrids may have in the invasion ecology of bigheaded carps, we examined the distribution, movements, and environmental cues for movement of two invasive fishes and their hybrids in the Illinois River (USA).
3. Early generation hybrids (e.g., F1,F2, and first generation backcross individuals) composed a greater proportion of the population at the invasion front where abundances of bigheaded carp were low. A greater proportion of early hybrids passed through dams upstream towards the invasion front than did other hybrids and parental species.
4. The movements and environmental cues for movement of late-generation backcrosses (more genetically similar to parental genotype) were not different from the parental species with which they shared the most alleles. Although the direction of the relationship between movement and environment was sometimes different for the parental species and associated advanced generation hybrids, these results indicate that management for parental species will also affect most hybrids.
5. Although early generation hybrids are rare, our results indicate they may disperse towards low-density population zones (i.e., invasion fronts) or are produced at greater frequency in low density areas. These rare hybrids have the potential to produce a variety of unique genetic combinations that could result in more rapid adaptation of a non-native population to their invaded range potentially facilitating the establishment of invasive species.