Molecular phylogenetic species delimitation in the aquatic genus Ottelia (Hydrocharitaceae) reveals cryptic diversity within a widespread species


Ottelia, a pantropical genus of aquatic plants belonging to the family Hydrocharitaceae, includes several narrowly distributed taxa in Asia. Although the Asian species have received comparatively more research attention than congeners in other areas, various key taxonomic questions remain unaddressed, especially with regards to apparent cryptic diversity within O. alismoides, a widespread species complex native to Asia, northern Australia and tropical Africa. Here we test taxonomic concepts and evaluate species boundaries using a phylogenetic framework. We sampled five of the seven species of Ottelia in Asia as well as each species endemic to Africa and Australia; multiple samples of O. alismoides were obtained from across Asia. Phylogenetic trees based on five plastid DNA markers and the nuclear ITS region shared almost identical topologies. A Bayesian coalescent method of species delimitation using the multi-locus data set discerned one species in Africa, one in Australia and four in Asia with the highest probability. The results lead us to infer that a population sampled in Thailand represents a hitherto unrecognised cryptic taxon within the widespread species complex, although the apparent lack of unambiguous diagnostic characters currently precludes formal description. Conversely, no molecular evidence for distinguishing O. cordata and O. emersa was obtained, and so the latter is synonymised under the former. Two accessions that exhibit inconsistent positions among our phylogenetic trees may represent cases of chloroplast capture, however incomplete lineage sorting or polyploidy are alternative hypotheses that ought to be tested using other molecular markers.

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The authors thank H. Wang (HITBC) and E. Liu (KUN) for arranging loans from their institutions and/or for hospitality during the authors’ recent visits; R. Pooma, S. Saengrit, N. Suphuntee, K. Chayamarit (BKF), K. Shuto (Fukushima), S.R. Yadav (Shivaji), H. Murata (Osaka), T. Sugawara (MAK), Nb. Tanaka (TNS), J. Murata, T. Ohi-Toma (TI), A. Naiki, Y. Saito (Okinawa) for assistance in the field; and C. Ishii (Tsukuba) for help with DNA sequencing. This research was supported by Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) President’s International Fellowship Initiative (PIFI) Grant no. 2015PB022 to YI and by the ‘Integrated analysis of natural history collections for conservation of highly endangered species’ programme under the National Museum of Nature and Science, Japan to NT.

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Ito, Y., Tanaka, N., Barfod, A.S. et al. Molecular phylogenetic species delimitation in the aquatic genus Ottelia (Hydrocharitaceae) reveals cryptic diversity within a widespread species. J Plant Res 132, 335–344 (2019).

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  • Alismatales
  • Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot
  • Monocotyledons
  • New species
  • Species delimitation