Phylogenetic relationships of Prosopis in South Africa: An assessment of the extent of hybridization, and the role of genome size and seed size in the invasion dynamics
Mazibuko, Dickson Mgangathweni
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Invasive alien plants have had diverse ecological and social impacts on recipient ecosystems and are a major problem for land managers. Successful management demands an understanding of the ecology of invading taxa. The invasive status and impacts are documented for Prosopis populations in South Africa. However, unresolved taxonomic issues, the extent of hybridization, the applicability of morphology as a species identification approach, and the role that some traits plays in the invasion success have not been studied. This creates a gap that hinders implementation of effective management policies. In this thesis I use a phylogenetic approach to determine the taxonomic make-up of invasive Prosopis populations in South Africa (Chapter 2) and compare the results to morphological identification (Chapter 3). I also look at seedling growth rates in the context of variation in genome size and seed size (Chapter 4). Almost all regions invaded by Prosopis are characterized by taxonomic uncertainty exacerbated by the ease of inter-specific hybridization. In Chapter 2 I aim to resolve taxonomic issues of invasive Prosopis populations in South Africa using a phylogenetic approach. In addition, I aim to unravel the extent of hybridization and the species involved in South Africa. Here, I found that Prosopis populations in South Africa comprise both reported and previously unreported species, indicating a need for a reassessment of the identity of invasive taxa. Hybridization is prevalent and all confirmed species are involved. These findings call for a rethink of legislation and management approaches, e.g. the selection of classical biological control agents. Overall the extent of hybridization indicates that Prosopis species in South Africa comprise a freely inter-breeding population typical of a syngameon. Proper morphological identification of invasive species is crucial for ecological studies and management of invasions. In Chapter 3, I use the total evidence approach to assess whether morphological approaches for identification are adequate for identifying Prosopis species in South Africa. I found that Prosopis taxa in South Africa cannot be reliably distinguished using existing morphological keys. This is likely due mainly to the proliferation of hybrids with a diverse morphology. Therefore, molecular tools are crucial for confirming any morphological identities and for determining the presence of any unreported species. Genome size and seed size have been reported to be associated with invasiveness in a number of plant groups, but not often in a system with multiple hybrids like Prosopis. In Chapter 4, I first investigate the relationship between genome size and seed size in invasive populations of Prosopis spp. in South Africa and secondly I investigate how genome and seed sizes influence germination and early growth. Here I found that genome size loses its distinctness, being diluted in hybridizing populations, but can still be used to assess hybridization events themselves. Large seed size seems to be important for invasiveness as it positively influences germination and early growth. This thesis confirms the taxonomic conundrum of Prosopis species in invasive ranges. This coupled with inadequacy of morphological identification calls for a global study involving native and invasive range taxa to clarify the existing confusions. In view of the presence of unreported Prosopis species in South Africa and extensive hybridization, a rethink of the current legislation and control is needed.