Exposing the illegal trade in cycad species (Cycadophyta: Encephalartos) at two traditional medicine markets in South Africa using DNA barcoding

J. Williamson, O. Maurin, S. N.S. Shiba, H. Van Der Bank, M. Pfab, M. Pilusa, R. M. Kabongo, M. Van Der Bank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Species in the cycad genus Encephalartos are listed in CITES Appendix I and as Threatened or Protected Species in terms of South Africa's National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEM:BA) of 2004. Despite regulations, illegal plant harvesting for medicinal trade has continued in South Africa and resulted in declines in cycad populations and even complete loss of sub-populations. Encephalartos is traded at traditional medicine markets in South Africa in the form of bark strips and stem sections; thus, determining the species traded presents a major challenge due to a lack of characteristic plant parts. Here, a case study is presented on the use of DNA barcoding to identify cycads sold at the Faraday and Warwick traditional medicine markets in Johannesburg and Durban, respectively. Market samples were sequenced for the core DNA barcodes (rbcLa and matK) as well as two additional regions: nrITS and trnH-psbA. The barcoding database for cycads at the University of Johannesburg was utilized to assign query samples to known species. Three approaches were followed: tree-based, similarity-based, and character-based (BRONX) methods. Market samples identified were Encephalartos ferox (Near Threatened), Encephalartos lebomboensis (Endangered), Encephalartos natalensis (Near Threatened), Encephalartos senticosus (Vulnerable), and Encephalartos villosus (Least Concern). Results from this study are crucial for making appropriate assessments and decisions on how to manage these markets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)771-781
Number of pages11
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2016


  • Core barcoding regions
  • Cycads
  • Muthi
  • NrITS
  • trnH-psbA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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