Willows (Salix: Salicaceae) form a major ecological component of Holarctic floras and consequently are an obvious target for a DNA-based identification system. We surveyed two to seven plastid genome regions (~3.8 kb; ~3% of the genome) from 71 Salix species across all five subgenera, to assess their performance as DNA barcode markers. Although Salix has a relatively high level of interspecific hybridization, this may not sufficiently explain the near complete failure of barcoding that we observed: only one species had a unique barcode. We recovered 39 unique haplotypes, from more than 500 specimens, that could be partitioned into six major haplotype groups. A unique variant of group I (haplotype 1*) was shared by 53 species in three of five Salix subgenera. This unusual pattern of haplotype sharing across infrageneric taxa is suggestive of either a massive nonrandom coalescence failure (incomplete lineage sorting), or of repeated plastid capture events, possibly including a historical selective sweep of haplotype 1* across taxonomic sections. The former is unlikely as molecular dating indicates that haplotype 1* originated recently and is nested in the oldest major haplotype group in the genus. Further, we detected significant non-neutrality in the frequency spectrum of mutations in group I, but not outside group I, and demonstrated a striking absence of geographical (isolation by distance) effects in the haplotype distributions of this group. The most likely explanation for the patterns we observed involves recent repeated plastid capture events, aided by widespread hybridization and long-range seed dispersal, but primarily propelled by one or more trans-species selective sweeps.
Our understanding of the spatial organization of root diversity in plant communities and of the mechanisms of community assembly has been limited by our ability to identify plants based on root tissue, especially in diverse communities. Here, we test the effectiveness of the plastid gene rbcL, a core plant DNA barcoding marker, for investigating spatial patterns of root diversity, and relate observed patterns to above-ground community structure. We collected 3800 root fragments from four randomly positioned, 1-m-deep soil profiles (two vertical transects per plot), located in an old-field community in southern Ontario, Canada, and extracted and sequenced DNA from 1531 subsampled fragments. We identified species by comparing sequences with a DNA barcode reference library developed previously for the local flora. Nearly 85% of sampled root fragments were successfully sequenced and identified as belonging to 29 plant species or species groups. Root abundance and species richness varied in horizontal space and were negatively correlated with soil depth. The relative abundance of taxa below-ground was correlated with their frequency above-ground (r = 0.73, P = 0.0001), but several species detected in root tissue were not observed in above-ground quadrats. Multivariate analyses indicated that diversity was highly structured below-ground, and associated with depth, root morphology, soil chemistry and soil texture, whereas little structure was evident above-ground. Furthermore, analyses of species co-occurrence indicates strong species segregation overall but random co-occurrence among confamilials. Our results provide insights into the role of environmental filtering and competitive interactions in the organization of plant diversity below-ground, and also demonstrate the utility of barcoding for the identification of plant roots.
The ability to discriminate between species using barcoding loci has proved more difficult in plants than animals, raising the possibility that plant species boundaries are less well defined. Here, we review a selection of published barcoding data sets to compare species discrimination in plants vs. animals. Although the use of different genetic markers, analytical methods and depths of taxon sampling may complicate comparisons, our results using common metrics demonstrate that the number of species supported as monophyletic using barcoding markers is higher in animals (> 90%) than plants (~70%), even after controlling for the amount of parsimony-informative information per species. This suggests that more than a simple lack of variability limits species discrimination in plants. Both animal and plant species pairs have variable size gaps between intra- and interspecific genetic distances, but animal species tend to have larger gaps than plants, even in relatively densely sampled genera. An analysis of 12 plant genera suggests that hybridization contributes significantly to variation in genetic discontinuity in plants. Barcoding success may be improved in some plant groups by careful choice of markers and appropriate sampling; however, overall fine-scale species discrimination in plants relative to animals may be inherently more difficult because of greater levels of gene-tree paraphyly.
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