Long regarded as a genus of two species, Dirca L. was expanded to include a third North American shrub discovered in 1994 as one population in the Sierra Madre Oriental of Tamaulipas in northeastern Mexico. The designation of Dirca mexicana Nesom & Mayfield as a third species in the genus was based in part on geographical separation from Dirca palustris L. and Dirca occidentalis Gray, which occur farther north in eastern North America and in a small region of California, respectively. Morphologically, D. mexicana was regarded as more similar to D. occidentalis than to D. palustris. Our objectives were to obtain fruits of all species, germinate seeds, and compare the three species genetically through analyses of seedling DNA. Drupes of D. mexicana, D. palustris (from populations in Iowa), and D. occidentalis were collected as they abscised naturally from plants in native habitats in mid-May, late May to early June, and mid-June, respectively. Embryo extraction, gibberellin, and cold stratification were used to promote germination, and DNA was extracted from leaves of seedlings by using the fully automated Autogen Autogenprep 740 DNA extraction system. Genomic DNA templates were used to compare sequences of the internal transcribed spacers (ITS) and the 5.8S coding region of the nuclear ribosomal DNA repeat and to examine polymorphisms in inter-simple sequence repeats (ISSRs). These analyses reinforce the present morphologically based classification of the three Dirca species by confirming species-level divergence at the molecular level. ITS sequences and ISSR banding patterns also enabled us to reconstruct the phylogenetic relationship among the three extant species of Dirca.
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