New insights into the population biology of endoparasitic Rafflesiaceae

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Parasitic plants demonstrate a diversity of growth strategies, life histories, and developmental and physiological characteristics. Most research to date has focused on a narrow range of parasitic taxa, particularly in the Orobanchaceae, while the other independent origins of parasitism have largely gone unstudied. One type of parasite that has received relatively little attention are the endophytic parasites, which have a fascinating growth strategy where the parasite is embedded within the host tissue, with the flower the only externally visibly plant part. Endophytic growth makes it challenging to understand basic aspects of species biology, such as the size of a given parasite, the number of parasites per host, and the genetic diversity of populations. Recent studies by Barkman et al. (2017) and Pelser et al. (2017) have used microsatellite genotyping to investigate the population biology of endoparasitic Rafflesiaceae species in Asia. They show the potential for extensive parasite spread within a host vine and the strong partitioning of genetic diversity by host. These species are also shown to have an outcrossing mating system. However, these studies suggest different reproductive strategies, one supporting monoecy and one suggesting dioecy. Overall, these studies partly “lift the lid” on the cryptic biology of Rafflesia and the Rafflesiaceae and open the door for future comparative studies between endophytic and free-living parasitic plants.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1433-1436
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number10
Early online date18 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • Endoparasitism
  • Genetic Diversity
  • Parasitic plants
  • Rafflesia
  • Rafflesiaceae

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