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Am J Bot. 2010 Aug;97(8):1391-406. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0900176. Epub 2010 Jul 20.

An evaluation of candidate plant DNA barcodes and assignment methods in diagnosing 29 species in the genus Agalinis (Orobanchaceae).

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Behavior, Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics Graduate Program, 2174 Plant Sciences Building, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, Maryland 20742.



DNA barcoding has been proposed as a useful technique within many disciplines (e.g., conservation biology and forensics) for determining the taxonomic identity of a sample based on nucleotide similarity to samples of known taxonomy. Application of DNA barcoding to plants has primarily focused on evaluating the success of candidate barcodes across a broad spectrum of evolutionary divergence. Less attention has been paid to evaluating performance when distinguishing congeners or to differential success of analytical techniques despite the fact that the practical application and utility of barcoding hinges on the ability to distinguish closely related species. •


We tested the ability to distinguish among 92 samples representing 29 putative species in the genus Agalinis (Orobanchaceae) using 13 candidate barcodes and three analytical methods (i.e., threshold genetic distances, hierarchical tree-based, and diagnostic character differences). Due to questions regarding evolutionary distinctiveness of some taxa, we evaluated success under two taxonomic hypotheses. •


The psbA-trnH and trnT-trnL barcodes in conjunction with the "best close match" distance-based method best met the objectives of DNA barcoding. Success was also a function of the taxonomy used. •


In addition to accurately identifying query sequences, our results showed that DNA barcoding is useful for detecting taxonomic uncertainty; determining whether erroneous taxonomy or incomplete lineage sorting is the cause requires additional information provided by traditional taxonomic approaches. The magnitude of differentiation within and among the Agalinis species sampled suggests that our results inform how DNA barcoding will perform among closely related species in other genera.

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