Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Genetic identity of Australian prickly acacia (Vachellia nilotica, Fabales: Mimosoideae) - assessing the target for biological control.

Abstract

Prickly acacia (Vachellia nilotica) has been the target of biological control programmes in Australia for over three decades, with little success. Control efforts may have been hindered by poor characterisation of the plants in Australia, and the ambiguous taxonomy of the species. Nine subspecies of this weed have been described, with only one subspecies identified in Australia (subsp. indica), though previous genetic screening identified a unique genotype in Australia that allegedly did not match any of the previously described subspecies (dubbed the "Pakistan genotype"). We used gene sequencing to characterise this weed in Australia, and to assess the native range distribution of the invasive subspecies. Two widespread ITS1 haplotypes were identified from 25 localities across northern Australia, corresponding to subsp. indica and the undescribed "Pakistan genotype". Many plants were heterozygous at the ITS1 locus, indicating plants with the distinct genotypes are freely interbreeding. The "Pakistan genotype", which has no defining morphological characters, was found across the native range of subsp. indica (including Ethiopia, where this subspecies has only recently been detected). The "Pakistan genotype" is not, in other words, a distinct subspecies, but simply represents genetic variation within subsp. indica. No genetic structuring was found across the native distribution of subsp. indica, so the precise provenance of the Australian plants could not be determined. Future studies should use microsatellites or genotyping-by-sequencing approaches to provide a finer-scale assessment of the provenance of the Australian plants.