Genetic insights into the globally invasive and taxonomically problematic tree genus Prosopis

Maria L. Castillo*, Urs Schaffner, Brian W. van Wilgen, Noé Manuel Montaño, Ramiro O. Bustamante, Andrea Cosacov, Megan J. Mathese, Johannes J. Le Roux

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)
    24 Downloads (Pure)


    Accurate taxonomic identification of alien species is crucial to detect new incursions, prevent or reduce the arrival of new invaders and implement management options such as biological control. Globally, the taxonomy of non-native Prosopis species is problematic due to misidentification and extensive hybridization. We performed a genetic analysis on several Prosopis species, and their putative hybrids, including both native and non-native populations, with a special focus on Prosopis invasions in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania). We aimed to clarify the taxonomic placement of non-native populations and to infer the introduction histories of Prosopis in Eastern Africa. DNA sequencing data from nuclear and chloroplast markers showed high homology (almost 100 %) between most species analysed. Analyses based on seven nuclear microsatellites confirmed weak population genetic structure among Prosopis species. Hybrids and polyploid individuals were recorded in both native and non-native populations. Invasive genotypes of Prosopis juliflora in Kenya and Ethiopia could have a similar native Mexican origin, while Tanzanian genotypes likely are from a different source. Native Peruvian Prosopis pallida genotypes showed high similarity with non-invasive genotypes from Kenya. Levels of introduced genetic diversity, relative to native populations, suggest that multiple introductions of P. juliflora and P. pallida occurred in Eastern Africa. Polyploidy may explain the successful invasion of P. juliflora in Eastern Africa. The polyploid P. juliflora was highly differentiated from the rest of the (diploid) species within the genus. The lack of genetic differentiation between most diploid species in their native ranges supports the notion that hybridization between allopatric species may occur frequently when they are co-introduced into non-native areas. For regulatory purposes, we propose to treat diploid Prosopis taxa from the Americas as a single taxonomic unit in non-native ranges.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numberplaa069
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalAoB PLANTS
    Issue number1
    Early online date8 Dec 2020
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • Eastern Africa
    • genetic diversity
    • hybridization
    • invasive alien species
    • mesquite
    • microsatellites
    • polyploidy
    • taxonomic uncertainty
    • tree invasions


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