Comparative phylogeographic analysis of Cuscuta campestris and Cuscuta reflexa in Kenya: implications for management of highly invasive vines
Eastern Africa is currently infested with dodders—highly invasive vines that threaten agriculture and biodiversity. We describe historical and ecological factors that have potentially shaped dodder invasion in this region. Our results reveal high levels of genetic diversity within dodder populations, which could enhance their ability to colonize new niches. Further, we identify two main population clusters in eastern and western Kenya, a pattern that is mirrored in an established invader (Cuscuta campestris) and a recent introduction (C. reflexa). Immediate control strategies are needed to limit deliberate or inadvertent seed/vine dispersal, eradicate existing populations, and monitor influx of propagules. Summary: Invasion by dodder (Cuscuta spp.), holo-parasitic plants of the Convolvulaceae family, has recently surged in Eastern Africa. Particularly, colonization by two species, Cuscuta campestris and Cuscuta reflexa that have a broad host range and rapid invasiveness, has escalated. We examined the first assessment of genetic diversity of these invasive species in Kenya to inform subsequent management practices. A comparative phylogeographic analysis, based on chloroplast and nuclear ribosomal DNA, was performed to determine genetic diversities, population structure, and isolation of C. campestris and C. reflexa in Kenya. Results reveal high genetic variation in both species within populations across localities. C. campestris had more haplotypes and higher gene diversity (P =.0001) and heterozygosity (P =.004) than C. reflexa. Both species were geographically separated, evidenced by two distinct lineages that mostly corresponded to localities east and west of Kenya. Correlation between genetic and geographic distances revealed evidence of isolation by distance (IBD). We attribute these genetic variation patterns to establishment via similar invasion routes for the studied Cuscuta spp. and suggest that Cuscuta invasion in Kenya is in the early stages of establishment. Rapid eradication is urgently needed to prevent shifts to economically important hosts, which would have devastating impacts. We recommend (i) development of targeted efforts to curb new introductions to limit the potential for genetic variability and adaptation, (ii) prevention of seed and vine dispersal from current incursions, and (iii) complete eradication of existing populations where this is feasible.