Journal Article

DNA barcoding: a new tool for palm taxonomists?

Marc L. Jeanson, Jean-Noël Labat and Damon P. Little

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 108, issue 8, pages 1445-1451
Published in print December 2011 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online July 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
DNA barcoding: a new tool for palm taxonomists?

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


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Background and Aims

In the last decade, a new tool – DNA barcoding – was proposed to identify species. The technique of DNA barcoding is still being developed. The Consortium for the Barcode of Life's Plant Working Group (CBOL-PWG) selected two core markers (matK and rbcL) that now must be tested in as many taxa as possible. Although the taxonomy of palms (Arecaceae/Palmae) has been greatly improved in the past decades, taxonomic problems remain. Species complexes, for example, could significantly benefit from DNA barcoding. Palms have never before been subjected to a DNA barcoding test.


For this study, 40 out of the 48 species of the southeast Asian tribe Caryoteae (subfamily Coryphoideae) were included. In total, four DNA markers – three plastid encoded (matK, rbcL and psbA-trnH) and one nuclear encoded (nrITS2) – were analysed to determine if adequate variation exists to discriminate among species.

Key Results

The combination of three markers – matK, rbcL and nrITS2 – results in 92 % species discrimination. This rate is high for a barcoding experiment. The two core markers suggested by the CBOL-PWG, rbcL and matK, have a low species discrimination rate and need to be supplemented by another marker. In Caryoteae, nrITS2 should be chosen over psbA-trnH to supplement the two ‘core’ markers.


For the first time a test of DNA barcoding was conducted in Arecaceae. Considering that palms have highly variable mutation rates compared with other angiosperms, the results presented here are encouraging for developing DNA barcoding as a useful tool to identify species within this ecologically important tropical plant family.

Keywords: DNA barcoding; Arecaceae; Caryoteae; Caryota; Arenga; Wallichia; rbcL; matK; psbA-trnH; nrITS2

Journal Article.  4715 words.  Illustrated.

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

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