Journal Article

Host-specific races in the holoparasitic angiosperm <i>Orobanche minor</i>: implications for speciation in parasitic plants

C. J. Thorogood, F. J. Rumsey and S. J. Hiscock

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 7, pages 1005-1014
Published in print May 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Host-specific races in the holoparasitic angiosperm Orobanche minor: implications for speciation in parasitic plants

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Orobanche minor is a root-holoparasitic angiosperm that attacks a wide range of host species, including a number of commonly cultivated crops. The extent to which genetic divergence among natural populations of O. minor is influenced by host specificity has not been determined previously. Here, the host specificity of natural populations of O. minor is quantified for the first time, and evidence that this species may comprise distinct physiological races is provided.


A tripartite approach was used to examine the physiological basis for the divergence of populations occurring on different hosts: (1) host–parasite interactions were cultivated in rhizotron bioassays in order to quantify the early stages of the infection and establishment processes; (2) using reciprocal-infection experiments, parasite races were cultivated on their natural and alien hosts, and their fitness determined in terms of biomass; and (3) the anatomy of the host–parasite interface was investigated using histochemical techniques, with a view to comparing the infection process on different hosts.

Key Results

Races occurring naturally on red clover (Trifolium pratense) and sea carrot (Daucus carota ssp. gummifer) showed distinct patterns of host specificity: parasites cultivated in cross-infection studies showed a higher fitness on their natural hosts, suggesting that races show local adaptation to specific hosts. In addition, histological evidence suggests that clover and carrot roots vary in their responses to infection. Different root anatomy and responses to infection may underpin a physiological basis for host specificity.


It is speculated that host specificity may isolate races of Orobanche on different hosts, accelerating divergence and ultimately speciation in this genus. The rapid life cycle and broad host range of O. minor make this species an ideal model with which to study the interactions of parasitic plants with their host associates.

Keywords: Parasitic plant; Orobanche; speciation; divergence; host-specificity; host-specific races

Journal Article.  6562 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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