Microcycas is a genus with one species, M. calocoma, endemic to Pinar del Río Province in Cuba. Morphology and DNA sequence data indicate a close relationship between Microcycas and Zamia, although Microcycas has many unique molecular characters which suggests a long period of isolation. There are approximately 500-600 individuals left in the wild, occurring in 17 scattered populations. The plants have suffered a decline due to habitat clearing, overcollecting, and destruction of young plants by pigs. The natural insect pollinator may have become extinct due to fires and pesticides. There is little natural regeneration in the wild, and juveniles are uncommon. Major efforts to preserve Microcycas have been initiated in Cuba. Preserves have been established, plants are pollinated manually, and studies are underway to improve propagation techniques and reintroduce plants to the wild. It would be very useful to find molecular markers to measure genetic variation within and between populations. This would help establish conservation priorities and be useful in breeding and reintroduction efforts. Towards this goal, we have screened an ex situ population at Fairchild Tropical Garden and Montgomery Botanical Center with 80 RAPD primers and 18 AFLP primer pairs. We will eventually include samples from wild populations in Cuba. A secondary goal was to explore the possibility of using molecular techniques to screen young plants for sex determination. All cycads are dioecious, with separate sexes that can be recognized only by their reproductive structures (cones). The mechanism of sex determination control in cycads is unknown. Sex markers will be useful to determine the sex of nursery propagated Microcycas seedlings prior to replanting in wild populations to restore balanced sex ratios to wild populations, and may be useful in other aspects of cycad horticulture.

Key words: AFLP, conservation genetics, cycad, Microcycas, RAPD, sex determination