The discovery of three genetic races of the dwarf mistletoe Arceuthobium americanum (Viscaceae) provides insight into the evolution of 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:


A population genetic approach was used to explore the evolutionary biology of the parasitic angiosperm Arceuthobium americanum Nutt. ex Engelm. (Viscaceae). Arceuthobium americanum infects three principal hosts and has the most extensive geographical range of any North American dwarf mistletoe. Based on the lack of apparent morphological and phenological differences between populations of A. americanum, past researchers have found no evidence for recognizing infraspecific taxa. In this study, molecular analysis using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis indicated that A. americanum is divided into three distinct genetic races, each associated with a different host taxon in regions of allopatry: (i) Pinus banksiana in western Canada; (ii) Pinus contorta var. murrayana in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges in the western US; and (iii) Pinus contorta var. latifolia in the western US and Canada. These observations suggest that host identity, geographical isolation and environmental factors have contributed to race formation in A. americanum. The lack of fine-scale patterning within each of the A. americanum races is attributed to random dispersal of seeds over long distances by animal vectors. Historical factors such as glaciations and founder events have also influenced structuring and genetic diversity in A. americanum populations. Given sufficient time, it is possible that these races will become reproductively isolated and undergo speciation.