We investigate the question of naturally occurring interspecific hybrids between two forest trees: the native North American butternut (Juglans cinerea L.) and the introduced Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia Carrière). Using nuclear and chloroplast DNA markers, we provide evidence for 29 F1 and 22 advanced generation hybrids in seven locations across the eastern and southern range of the native species. Two locations show extensive admixture (95% J. ailantifolia and hybrids) while other locations show limited admixture. Hybridization appears to be asymmetrical with 90.9 per cent of hybrids having J. ailantifolia as the maternal parent. This is, to our knowledge, the first genetic data supporting natural hybridization between these species. The long-term outcome of introgression could include loss of native diversity, but could also include transfer of useful traits from the introduced species.
Keywords: conservation, interspecific hybridization, introgression, Juglans cinerea