Host-driven divergence in the parasitic plant Orobanche minor Sm. (Orobanchaceae)


C. J. Thorogood, Fax: +44 (0) 117 331 7985; E-mail: or


Many parasitic angiosperms have a broad host range and are therefore considered to be host generalists. Orobanche minor is a nonphotosynthetic root parasite that attacks a range of hosts from taxonomically disparate families. In the present study, we show that O. minor sensu lato may comprise distinct, genetically divergent races isolated by the different ecologies of their hosts. Using a three-pronged approach, we tested the hypothesis that intraspecific taxa O. minor var. minor and O. minor ssp. maritima parasitizing either clover (Trifolium pratense) or sea carrot (Daucus carota ssp. gummifer), respectively, are in allopatric isolation. Morphometric analysis revealed evidence of divergence but this was insufficient to define discrete, host-specific taxa. Intersimple sequence repeat (ISSR) marker-based data provided stronger evidence of divergence, suggesting that populations were isolated from gene flow. Phylogenetic analysis, using sequence-characterized amplified region (SCAR) markers derived from ISSR loci, provided strong evidence for divergence by clearly differentiating sea carrot-specific clades and mixed-host clades. Low levels of intrapopulation SCAR marker sequence variation and floral morphology suggest that populations on different hosts are probably selfing and inbreeding. Morphologically cryptic Orobanche taxa may therefore be isolated from gene flow by host ecology. Together, these data suggest that host specificity may be an important driver of allopatric speciation in parasitic plants.