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The leafless Vanilla species-complex from the South-West Indian Ocean Region: A taxonomic puzzle and a model for orchid evolution and conservation research

Andriamihaja C., Ramarosandratana N.A.V.H., Grisoni M., Jeannoda V., Besse P.. 2020. Diversity, 12 : 25 p..

DOI: 10.3390/d12120443

The pantropical genus Vanilla is a member of the Orchidaceae family, one of the largest and most diverse families of angiosperms in the world. It originated in America and differentiated in America, Africa, and Asia. About 132 species of Vanilla have now been accepted since the discovery of the genus. Within the Vanilla genus, leaflessness has appeared at least three independent times, in Africa, Asia, and America as an adaptation to drought conditions. The South-West Indian Ocean (SWIO) region, a biodiversity hotspot for orchids, is home to seven leafless species. Chloroplast markers failed to differentiate species within this recent SWIO clade. Morphological traits used for description are very similar between species and do not provide reliable identification. Moreover, some of the species have overlapping flowering periods and geographic distribution in Madagascar, increasing the probability of finding some sympatric species and, therefore, hybrids. Leafless Vanilla species from the SWIO islands are thus an excellent model for understanding the evolution of orchids. For their conservation, and to confirm the identity of these leafless species, an integrated approach with classical taxonomy using a large number of samples, intense fieldwork on biology and ecology, and molecular studies using variable markers is necessary.

Mots-clés : taxonomie; vanilla; Éthnobotanique; biodiversité; conservation des ressources génétiques; botanique; Écologie; biogéographie; distribution géographique; valeur économique; madagascar; comores; mayotte; seychelles; maurice; réunion

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