The importance of species identity in the biocontrol process: Identifying the subspecies of Acacia nilotica (Leguminosae: Mimosoideae) by genetic distance and the implications for biological control

Trevor J. Wardill, Glenn C. Graham, Myron Zalucki, William A. Palmer, Julia Playford, Kirsten D. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Aims: A molecular genetic distance study has been used in an initial survey to identify subspecies and genotypes of the weed Acacia nilotica in Australia, information needed to find suitable biocontrol agents. We use patterns of DNA sequence variation (in two DNA fragments) from each of the nine described subspecies of Acacia nilotica (L.) Delile (Leguminosae: Mimosoideae) that is to determine their genetic similarity, to verify if the Australian populations are A. nilotica ssp. indica (Benth.) Brenan, and to establish if any other subspecies are present in Australia. Location: Australia and southern Africa through the Arabian peninsular to the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Methods: Representative specimens from the global distribution of the nine A. nilotica subspecies were sourced primarily from herbaria sheet specimens where available, and secondarily from field collections. These specimens together with related outgroups from Mimosoideae were genetically analysed using the DNA fragments trnL and internal transcribed spacer one (ITS1). We calculated a similarity index as set out in paup* using upgma (Unweighted Pair-Group Method Arithmetic average) methods to cluster taxa to produce a genetic distance phenogram. Results: Sequence results from ITS1 and trnL DNA fragments identified seven of the described subspecies of A. nilotica. Acacia nilotica ssp. cupressiformis (J. Stewart) Ali & Faruqi and A. nilotica ssp. adstringens (Schumach. & Thonn.) Roberty were not found to be genotypically distinct from A. nilotica ssp. indica and A. nilotica ssp. nilotica, respectively, based on the two DNA fragments. Subspecific ITS1 genotypes were geographically distributed similarly to previous reports that were based on morphology, with the exception that the hemispherica ITS1 genotype also occurred in Somalia. We confirmed that the Australian A. nilotica populations are mostly comprised of subspecies indica, but in addition, some individuals were found to be genetically identical to an unidentified Pakistan genotype not previously reported as occurring in Australia. Main conclusions: Australian A. nilotica populations originated from India and Pakistan and we recommend further analysis to determine the complete genetic diversity profile and origins of the Australian populations. We highlight the importance of determining any hybridization between Australian populations of A. nilotica and native subgenus Acacia species. This study demonstrates the importance of genotyping weed species targeted for biocontrol and/or listed host specificity test species that may be easily misidentified. Biocontrol practitioners can justify genetic studies by considering the costs should a project fail through misidentification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2145-2159
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Diagnostic
  • Distribution
  • Genetic distance
  • Hybridization
  • Internal transcribed spacer
  • Misidentification
  • Origin
  • Taxonomy
  • trnL


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