Hidden in plain view: Cryptic diversity in the emblematic Araucaria of New Caledonia

Richard Ennos, Markus Ruhsam, Alexandra Clark, Aline Finger, Adrien Wulff, Robert R Mill, Philip I Thomas, Martin F Gardner, Myriam Gaudeul, Peter M. Hollingsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Cryptic species represent a conservation challenge, because distributions and threats cannot be accurately assessed until species are recognized and defi ned. Cryptic species are common in diminutive and morphologically simple organisms, but are rare in charismatic and/or highly visible groups such as conifers. New Caledonia, a small island in the southern Pacifi c is a hotspot of diversity for the emblematic conifer genus Araucaria (Araucariaceae, Monkey Puzzle trees) where 13 of the 19 recognized species are endemic.
METHODS: We sampled across the entire geographical distribution of two closely related species (A raucaria rulei and A. muelleri ) and screened them for genetic variation at 12 nuclear and 14 plastid microsatellites and one plastid minisatellite; a subset of the samples was also examined using leaf morphometrics.
KEY RESULTS: The genetic data show that populations of the endangered A. muelleri fall into two clearly distinct genetic groups: one corresponding to montane populations, the other corresponding to trees from lower elevation populations from around the Goro plateau. These Goro plateau populations are more closely related to A. rulei, but are sufficiently genetically and morphological distinct to warrant recognition as a new species.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study shows the presence of a previously unrecognized species in this flagship group, and that A. muelleri has 30% fewer individuals than previously thought. Combined, this clarification of species diversity and distributions provides important information to aid conservation planning for New Caledonian Araucaria.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-898
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number5
Early online date10 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Araucaria
  • cryptic species
  • New Caledonia
  • conifer
  • monkey puzzle
  • gymnosperm
  • phyleography


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