Plant DNA-barcode library and community phylogeny for a semi-arid East African savanna

Brian A. Gill, Paul M. Musili, Samson Kurukura, Abidikadir A. Hassan, Jacob R. Goheen, W. John Kress, Maria Kuzmina, Robert M. Pringle, Tyler R. Kartzinel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Applications of DNA barcoding include identifying species, inferring ecological and evolutionary relationships between species, and DNA metabarcoding. These applications require reference libraries that are not yet available for many taxa and geographic regions. We collected, identified, and vouchered plant specimens from Mpala Research Center in Laikipia, Kenya, to develop an extensive DNA-barcode library for a savanna ecosystem in equatorial East Africa. We amassed up to five DNA barcode markers (rbcL, matK, trnL-F, trnH–psbA, and ITS) for 1,781 specimens representing up to 460 species (~92% of the known flora), increasing the number of plant DNA barcode records for Africa by ~9%. We evaluated the ability of these markers, singly and in combination, to delimit species by calculating intra- and interspecific genetic distances. We further estimated a plant community phylogeny and demonstrated its utility by testing if evolutionary relatedness could predict the tendency of members of the Mpala plant community to have or lack “barcode gaps”, defined as disparities between the maximum intra- and minimum interspecific genetic distances. We found barcode gaps for 72%–89% of taxa depending on the marker or markers used. With the exception of the markers rbcL and ITS, we found that evolutionary relatedness was an important predictor of barcode-gap presence or absence for all of the markers in combination and for matK, trnL-F, and trnH–psbA individually. This plant DNA barcode library and community phylogeny will be a valuable resource for future investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)838-846
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Ecology Resources
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


  • East Africa
  • Forest Global Earth Observatory
  • Mpala Research Centre
  • barcode gap
  • biodiversity
  • comparative phylogenetics


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