Biological Invasions

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 1175–1187 | Cite as

Tumbleweed (Salsola, section Kali) species and speciation in California

  • Debra AyresEmail author
  • Frederick J. Ryan
  • Eva Grotkopp
  • John Bailey
  • John Gaskin
Original Paper


Tumbleweeds (Salsola species, section Kali) are road side and rangeland pest plants throughout the 48 contiguous states in the US. Three described tumbleweed species and two undescribed Salsola taxa occur in California. The known species are Russian thistle, Salsola tragus, introduced from Eurasia in the 1800s, Russian barbwire thistle, S. paulsenii, which grows in the desert regions of California, and is also native to Eurasia, and the recently identified S. kali subspecies austroafricana, possibly native to South Africa. Our goals were to investigate karyology, genome size, and molecular genetic affinities of the described species and the other taxa within their ranges in California using recently developed microsatellite loci, dominant nuclear DNA markers (RAPD and ISSR), and DNA sequence data. Chromosome counts and genome size assessments made with flow cytometry were compared. These analyses indicated that one undescribed taxon is a new allopolyploid hybrid between S. tragus and S. kali subspecies austroafricana, and the other undescribed taxon appears to be a complex hybrid involving all three described species. The invasion potentials for the hybrid taxa are unknown. Tumbleweeds are the focus of biological controls efforts but the identification of suitable agents for the hybrid taxa may be problematic because of the large amount of genetic variability encompassed within this evolving Salsola complex.


Allopolyploid speciation Invasive hybrids Salsola tragus 



We thank the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program for funding this project, Drs. Patrick Akers and Fred Hrusa of the California Department of Food and Agriculture for plant and seed collection, and Alex Lee for invaluable lab assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debra Ayres
    • 1
    Email author
  • Frederick J. Ryan
    • 2
  • Eva Grotkopp
    • 1
  • John Bailey
    • 3
  • John Gaskin
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Evolution and EcologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.FresnoUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  4. 4.United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research ServiceNorthern Plains Agricultural Research LaboratorySidneyUSA

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