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Comparative population structure and genetic diversity of Arceuthobium americanum (Viscaceae) and its Pinus host species: insight into host–parasite evolution in parasitic angiosperms


Cheryl A. Jerome. †Present address: Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EA, UK. Fax: +44-1223-333953; E-mail:


In a recent study we revealed that the parasitic angiosperm Arceuthobium americanum is comprised of three distinct genetic races, each associated with a different host in regions of allopatry. In order to assess the role of host identity and geographical isolation on race formation in A. americanum, we compared the genetic population structure of this parasite with that of its three principal hosts, Pinus banksiana, Pinus contorta var. latifolia and Pinus contorta var. murrayana. Despite the fact that A. americanum was divided into three genetic races, hosts were divided into only two genetic groups: (i) Pinus banksiana and hybrids, and (ii) P. contorta var. latifolia and var. murrayana. These findings suggest that factors such as geographical isolation and adaptation to different environmental conditions are important for race formation in the absence of host-driven selection pressures. To assess factors impacting population structure at the fine-scale, genetic and geographical distance matrices of host and parasite were compared within A. americanum races. The lack of a relationship between genetic and geographical distance matrices suggests that isolation-by-distance plays a negligible role at this level. The effect of geographical isolation may have been diminished because of the influence of factors such as random seed dispersal by animal vectors or adaptation to nongeographically patterned environmental conditions. Host–parasite interactions might also have impacted the fine-scale structure of A. americanum because the parasite and host were found to have similar patterns of gene flow.