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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2007 Dec;45(3):997-1013. Epub 2007 Sep 12.

Cophylogeny and disparate rates of evolution in sympatric lineages of chewing lice on pocket gophers.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences and Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.


Although molecular-based phylogenetic studies of hosts and parasites are increasingly common in the literature, no study to date has examined two congeneric lineages of parasites that live in sympatry on the same lineage of hosts. This study examines phylogenetic relationships among chewing lice (Phthiraptera: Trichodectidae) of the Geomydoecus coronadoi and Geomydoecus mexicanus species complexes and compares these to phylogenetic patterns in their hosts (pocket gophers of the rodent family Geomyidae). Sympatry of congeneric lice provides a natural experiment to test the hypothesis that closely related lineages of parasites will respond similarly to the same host. Sequence data from the mitochondrial COI and the nuclear EF-1alpha genes confirm that the two louse complexes are reciprocally monophyletic and that individual clades within each species complex parasitize a different species of pocket gopher. Phylogenetic comparisons reveal that both louse complexes show a significant pattern of cophylogeny with their hosts. Comparisons of rates of nucleotide substitution at 4-fold degenerate sites in the COI gene indicate that both groups of lice have significantly higher basal mutation rates than their hosts. The two groups of lice have similar basal rates of mutation, but lice of the G. coronadoi complex show significantly elevated rates of nucleotide substitution at all sites. These rate differences are hypothesized to result from population-level phenomena, such as effective population size, founder effects, and drift, that influence rates of nucleotide substitution.

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