Hybridization and introgression between crops and wild relatives may have important evolutionary and ecological consequences such as gene swamping or increased invasiveness. In the present study, we investigated hybridization under field conditions between crop lettuce (Lactuca sativa) and its wild relative prickly lettuce (L. serriola), two cross-compatible, predominantly autogamous and insect pollinated species. In 2003 and 2004, we estimated the rates of hybridization between L. sativa and L. serriola in close-to-reality field experiments carried out in two locations of Northern Switzerland. Seeds set by the experimental wild plants were collected and sown (44 352 in 2003 and 252 345 in 2004). Progeny was screened morphologically for detecting natural hybrids. Prior to the experiment, specific RAPD markers were used to confirm that morphological characters were reliable for hybrid identification. Hybridization occurred up to the maximal distance tested (40 m), and hybridization rates varied between 0 to 26%, decreasing with distance. More than 80% of the wild plants produced at least one hybrid (incidence of hybridization, IH) at 0 m and 1 m. It equaled 4 to 5% at 40 m. In sympatric crop-wild populations, cross-pollination between cultivated lettuce and its wild relative has to be seen as the rule rather than the exception for short distances.
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