Cryptic species in an endangered pondweed community (Potamogeton, Potamogetonaceae) revealed by AFLP markers

Justen B. Whittall, C. Barre Hellquist, Edward L. Schneider, Scott A. Hodges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Cryptic species are morphologically indistinguishable, yet reproductively isolated. Morphological boundaries between species can also be obscured by hybridization and clonality. Determining the roles of reproductive isolation, hybridization, and clonality in morphologically indistinguishable taxa is essential to determining appropriate species-level taxonomic rankings for conservation purposes. The taxonomic status of the endangered Little Aguja pondweed of west Texas, Potamogeton clystocarpus, is uncertain due to a lack of fixed morphological differences between it and two sympatric congeners. Morphology, amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs), and sequences of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region and trnL-F intron and spacer were used to determine the degree of genetic distinctiveness, hybridization and clonality for this rare species. AFLPs indicate that P. clystocarpus is a genetically distinct lineage compared to P. pusillus and P. foliosus. No hybrids involving P. clystocarpus were detected, but two putative hybrids involving P. pusillus and P. foliosus were identified. Clonal growth was only detected in P. pusillus. A combination of morphological and molecular markers was successful in determining the genetic distinctiveness of an endangered cryptic species, Potamogeton clystocarpus. Further sampling in this and adjacent drainages is necessary to assess the degree of endemism of P. clystocarpus and confidently rule out hybridization and clonality in this taxon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2022-2029
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican journal of botany
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • AFLP
  • Aquatic plant
  • Cryptic species
  • Endangered species
  • Hybridization
  • Potamogeton clystocarpus
  • Potamogetonaceae


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