Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

Paul G. Wolf


Paul G. Wolf


Karen E. Mock


Michael E. Pfrender


Leila Shultz


Carol D. von Dohlen


The focus of this research project is the complex of infraspecific taxa that make up the crisp-leaf buckwheat species Eriogonum corymbosum (Polygonaceae), which is distributed widely across southwestern North America. This complex provides an ideal taxonomic group for research into population relationships and speciation. To avoid unnecessary debates about taxonomic validity or contentious issues regarding appropriate species definitions, the historical evolution of the species concept is first reviewed in detail, demythologizing an often-assumed species problem. Following that review, the E. corymbosum complex is examined specifically. Although eight varieties of E. corymbosum are currently recognized based on morphological characters, this group of large, woody shrubs has a history of revisions that demonstrates the uncertainty inherent in circumscriptions based on morphology alone. The apparent rarity of some E. corymbosum varieties also presents conservation and management challenges, demonstrating the need for taxonomic verification. To bring greater resolution to this group, I genetically tested samples from populations of six of the eight varieties of E. corymbosum, as well as a number of related buckwheat species. With 103 AFLP loci and chloroplast sequence data from 397 samples, I found strong support for the designation of the recently named E. corymbosum var. nilesii. This predominantly yellow-flowered variety had previously been considered part of a more common variety, and thus its management had not been of particular concern. But as a separate variety, its known distribution is quite limited, and management for this rare plant is now advised. An examination of the biogeography of the E. corymbosum complex provides further support for the apparent rarity of var. nilesii, as well as var. aureum. Both taxa are found at the periphery of the complex, and both may represent insipient species. While all other varieties appear more closely related to each other than to varieties aureum and nilesii, with overlapping ranges confined mostly to the Colorado Plateau, both var. aureum and var. nilesii appear to have allopatric ranges largely off the Colorado Plateau. It appears these two peripheral varieties may each entail a separate center of origin for two new taxa.



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