Population genetics and phylogeography of the species of the genus Vinca

The genus Vinca L., commonly known as periwinkle, belongs to the Apocynaceae (dogbane) family. Representatives of this plant family are native mainly to the subtropics and tropics of the southern hemisphere. A few genera, including Vinca, are also distributed in temperate regions.

The genus Vinca currently includes seven species: V. major, V. minor, V. difformis, V. erecta, V. herbacea, V. ispartensis, and V. soneri. The four former species are evergreen chamaephytes, whereas in V. herbacea, V. ispartensis, and V. soneri the above-ground organs die at the end of the growing season. In our working group we are mainly concerned with the species: V. minor L. (Small periwinkle), V. major L. (Large periwinkle) and V. difformis Pourr. (Medium Periwinkle). All three species are native to the Mediterranean region and were introduced by humans. In some regions of the allochthonous range (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, USA) V. major and V. minor have become invasive species and are intensively controlled. This is not the case in Central Europe. Interestingly, V. difformis is considered invasive in some parts of Spain. The spread of these species is probably due to their mythological significance and pharmacological use (they contain numerous alkaloids, e.g. vincamine). A nearly worldwide distribution was achieved by the two ground dwelling species V. minor and V. major through their use as ornamental plants. V. difformis has also been cultivated as an ornamental, but this species is not represented worldwide. Its range extends over the southwestern Mediterranean region.

Central to our research on the genus Vinca L. are studies of the population genetics, phylogeography, reproductive biology, and ecology of the three species mentioned above. In doing so, each of these species will be studied: (1) in the autochthonous range, (2) in areas where the species is considered a harmless immigrant, and (3) in areas where the species has developed an invasive character. The results obtained for the three species will be compared. Overall, through our research, we aim to contribute to the understanding of the reasons and conditions that lead to invasiveness in these three species.

Image: Hanna Raus
From left to right: Vinca major var. oxyloba, Vinca major and Vinca difformis.


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