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Along for the ride or missing it altogether: exploring the host specificity and diversity of haemogregarines in the Canary Islands

Tomé, Beatriz, Pereira, Ana, Jorge, Fátima, Carretero, Miguel A., Harris, D. James, Perera, Ana
Parasites & vectors 2018 v.11 no.1 pp. 190
Chalcides, Gallotia, Haemogregarina, blood, genetic variation, geographical distribution, haplotypes, host range, host specificity, host-parasite relationships, hosts, islands, lizards, nucleotide sequences, parasitemia, parasites, phylogeny, ribosomal RNA, sympatry, Canary Islands
BACKGROUND: Host-parasite relationships are expected to be strongly shaped by host specificity, a crucial factor in parasite adaptability and diversification. Because whole host communities have to be considered to assess host specificity, oceanic islands are ideal study systems given their simplified biotic assemblages. Previous studies on insular parasites suggest host range broadening during colonization. Here, we investigate the association between one parasite group (haemogregarines) and multiple sympatric hosts (of three lizard genera: Gallotia, Chalcides and Tarentola) in the Canary Islands. Given haemogregarine characteristics and insular conditions, we hypothesized low host specificity and/or occurrence of host-switching events. METHODS: A total of 825 samples were collected from the three host taxa inhabiting the seven main islands of the Canarian Archipelago, including locations where the different lizards occurred in sympatry. Blood slides were screened to assess prevalence and parasitaemia, while parasite genetic diversity and phylogenetic relationships were inferred from 18S rRNA gene sequences. RESULTS: Infection levels and diversity of haplotypes varied geographically and across host groups. Infections were found in all species of Gallotia across the seven islands, in Tarentola from Tenerife, La Gomera and La Palma, and in Chalcides from Tenerife, La Gomera and El Hierro. Gallotia lizards presented the highest parasite prevalence, parasitaemia and diversity (seven haplotypes), while the other two host groups (Chalcides and Tarentola) harbored one haplotype each, with low prevalence and parasitaemia levels, and very restricted geographical ranges. Host-sharing of the same haemogregarine haplotype was only detected twice, but these rare instances likely represent occasional cross-infections. CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest that: (i) Canarian haemogregarine haplotypes are highly host-specific, which might have restricted parasite host expansion; (ii) haemogregarines most probably reached the Canary Islands in three colonization events with each host genus; and (iii) the high number of parasite haplotypes infecting Gallotia hosts and their restricted geographical distribution suggest co-diversification. These findings contrast with our expectations derived from results on other insular parasites, highlighting how host specificity depends on parasite characteristics and evolutionary history.