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Multigene analysis suggests ecological speciation in the fungal pathogen Claviceps purpurea


G. W. Douhan, Fax: +1 951 826 4132; E-mail:


Claviceps purpurea is an important pathogen of grasses and source of novel chemical compounds. Three groups within this species (G1, G2 and G3) have been recognized based on habitat association, sclerotia and conidia morphology, as well as alkaloid production. These groups have further been supported by Random Amplification of Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) and amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers, suggesting this species may be more accurately described as a species complex. However, all divergent ecotypes can coexist in sympatric populations with no obvious physical barriers to prevent gene flow. In this study, we used both phylogenetic and population genetic analyses to test for speciation within C. purpurea using DNA sequences from ITS, a RAS-like locus, and a portion of beta-tubulin. The G1 types are significantly divergent from the G2/G3 types based on each of the three loci and the combined dataset, whereas the G2/G3 types are more integrated with one another. Although the G2 and G3 lineages have not diverged as much as the G1 lineage based on DNA sequence data, the use of three DNA loci does reliably separate the G2 and G3 lineages. However, the population genetic analyses strongly suggest little to no gene flow occurring between the different ecotypes, and we argue that this process is driven by adaptations to ecological habitats; G1 isolates are associated with terrestrial grasses, G2 isolates are found in wet and shady environments, and G3 isolates are found in salt marsh habitats.