Conservation Genetics

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 1069–1081 | Cite as

Considering evolutionary processes in cycad conservation: identification of evolutionarily significant units within Dioon sonorense (Zamiaceae) in northwestern Mexico

  • José Said Gutiérrez-OrtegaEmail author
  • Karen Jiménez-Cedillo
  • Miguel Angel Pérez-Farrera
  • Andrew P. Vovides
  • José F. Martínez
  • Francisco Molina-Freaner
  • Ryosuke Imai
  • Yoshiaki Tsuda
  • Yu Matsuki
  • Yoshihisa Suyama
  • Yasuyuki Watano
  • Tadashi KajitaEmail author
Research Article


Cycads are considered to be the most threatened plant group on Earth. Thus, the identification of important biological units for conservation is crucial for their management and protection. Taxonomic studies have enormously contributed to cycad conservation, since species descriptions formally recognize biodiversity components that can be considered in conservation. However, because multidisciplinary studies that evaluate the biodiversity within cycad species are almost non-existent intraspecific evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) have not been considered when making conservation plans. The cycad Dioon sonorense (Zamiaceae) has a relatively wide distribution range along a vegetation gradient in Northwest Mexico: the southern populations of D. sonorense occur in tropical forests, whereas the northern populations occur in more xeric environments in the Sonoran Desert. Although both habitats might have promoted important evolutionary trends within D. sonorense, only the southern populations are being conserved. Here, we evaluated whether intrinsic differentiation among populations of D. sonorense exists, and whether northern populations may merit attention in conservation programs. We analyzed the variation of genome-wide loci to evaluate the genetic structure among six populations. We found two clusters, northern and southern, that can be recognized using 361 neutral loci. Such genetic structure is consistent with the differentiation observed from the variation of 16 macromorphological and 9 epidermal traits. Southern and northern regions are clearly differentiated in genetic, morphological and anatomical analyses. These multidisciplinary results suggest that the northernmost populations of D. sonorense represent an ESU that should be included in conservation programs. This study highlights that the evaluation of intraspecific variation may contribute effective strategies for cycad conservation, and that evolutionary processes should be considered in the delimitation of conservation units.


Cycads Dioon sonorense Evolutionarily significant units Epidermal anatomy MIG-seq Sonoran Desert 



Thanks to Takuro Ito and Sonia Galicia for technical support. We are very grateful for the revision of two anonymous reviewers who gave critical comments that helped improve the manuscript. M.A.P.F. thanks Christopher Davidson and Sharon Christoph for partial financial support. Field specimens of D. sonorense were collected under permits No. SGPA/DGVS/12198 and SGPA/DGVS/08722 from SEMARNAT, Mexico.


This study was funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Grant in aid No. 16J11945 to J.S.G.O.) and Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (Grant CB-2011-01-169468 to A.P.V.).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10592_2018_1079_MOESM1_ESM.docx (11.9 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 12218 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • José Said Gutiérrez-Ortega
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karen Jiménez-Cedillo
    • 2
  • Miguel Angel Pérez-Farrera
    • 3
  • Andrew P. Vovides
    • 4
  • José F. Martínez
    • 5
  • Francisco Molina-Freaner
    • 5
    • 6
  • Ryosuke Imai
    • 7
  • Yoshiaki Tsuda
    • 7
  • Yu Matsuki
    • 8
  • Yoshihisa Suyama
    • 8
  • Yasuyuki Watano
    • 1
  • Tadashi Kajita
    • 9
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Biology, Graduate School of ScienceChiba UniversityChibaJapan
  2. 2.Licenciatura en BiologíaUniversidad de SonoraHermosilloMexico
  3. 3.Laboratorio de Ecología Evolutiva, Herbario Eizi Matuda, Instituto de Ciencias BiológicasUniversidad de Ciencias y Artes de ChiapasTuxtla GutiérrezMexico
  4. 4.Departamento de Biología EvolutivaInstituto de Ecología, A.C.XalapaMexico
  5. 5.Departamento de Ecología de la Biodiversidad, Instituto de EcologíaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoHermosilloMexico
  6. 6.Instituto de Geología, Estación Regional del NoroesteUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoHermosilloMexico
  7. 7.Sugadaira Montane Research CenterUniversity of TsukubaUedaJapan
  8. 8.Kawatabi Field Science Center, Graduate School of Agricultural ScienceTohoku UniversityOsakiJapan
  9. 9.Iriomote Station, Tropical Biosphere Research CenterUniversity of the RyukyusYaeyamaJapan

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