Species are reproductively isolated by strong barriers to hybridisation, which include morphological differences, differing times of fertility, mating behaviors and cues, and physiological rejection of sperm cells or the developing embryo. Some act before fertilization and others after it. Similar barriers exist in plants, with differences in flowering times, pollen vectors, inhibition of pollen tube growth, somatoplastic sterility, cytoplasmic-genic male sterility and the structure of the chromosomes. A few animal species and many plant species, however, are the result of hybrid speciation, including important crop plants such as wheat, where the number of chromosomes has been doubled.
Human impact on the environment has resulted in an increase in the intrabreeding between species, with introduced species worldwide, which has resulted in an increase in hybridization. The genetic mixing may threaten many species with extinction, while genetic erosion in crop plants may be damaging the gene pools of many species for future breeding. Many commercially useful fruits, flowers, garden herbs and trees have been produced by hybridization. One flower, Oenothera lamarckiana, was central to early genetics research into mutationism and polyploidy.
Hybrid humans existed during prehistoric ancient times. Mythological hybrids appear in human culture in forms as diverse as the Minotaur, blends of animals, humans and mythical beasts such as centaurs and sphinxes, and the Nephilim of the Biblical apocrypha described as the wicked sons of fallen angels and attractive women.
The term hybrid is derived from Latin hybrida, used for crosses such as of a tame sow and a wild boar. The term came into popular use in English in the 19th century, though examples of its use have been found from the early 17th century. Conspicuous hybrids are popularly named with portmanteau words, starting in the 1920s with the breeding of tiger–lion hybrids (liger and tigon).
From the point of view of animal and plant breeders, there are several kinds of hybrid formed from crosses within a species, such as between different breeds. Single cross hybrids result from the cross between two true-breeding organisms which produces an F1 hybrid (first filial generation). The cross between two different homozygous lines produces an F1 hybrid that is heterozygous; having two alleles, one contributed by each parent and typically one is dominant and the other recessive. Typically, the F1 generation is also phenotypically homogeneous, producing offspring that are all similar to each other. Double cross hybrids result from the cross between two different F1 hybrids (i.e., there are four unrelated grandparents). Three-way cross hybrids result from the cross between an F1 hybrid and an inbred line. Triple cross hybrids result from the crossing of two different three-way cross hybrids. Top cross (or "topcross") hybrids result from the crossing of a top quality or pure-bred male and a lower quality female, intended to improve the quality of the offspring, on average.