Tubers of terrestrial orchids are harvested and traded from the eastern Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea for the traditional product Salep. Overexploitation of wild populations and increased middle-class prosperity have escalated prices for Salep, causing overharvesting, depletion of native populations and providing an incentive to expand harvesting to untapped areas in Iran. Limited morphological distinctiveness among traded Salep tubers renders species identification impossible, making it difficult to establish which species are targeted and affected the most. In this study, a reference database of 490 nrITS, trnL-F spacer and matK sequences of 133 taxa was used to identify 150 individual tubers from 31 batches purchased in 12 cities in Iran to assess species diversity in commerce. The sequence reference database consisted of 211 nrITS, 158 trnL-F and 121 matK sequences, including 238 new sequences from collections made for this study. The markers enabled unambiguous species identification with tree-based methods for nrITS in 67% of the tested tubers, 58% for trnL-F and 59% for matK. Species in the genera Orchis (34%), Anacamptis (27%) and Dactylorhiza (19%) were the most common in Salep. Our study shows that all tuberous orchid species in this area are threatened by this trade, and further stresses the urgency of controlling illegal harvesting and cross-border trade of Salep tubers.
This is the peer reviewed version of the article, which has been published in final form at doi: 10.1111/1755-0998.12615. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.