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Parasitology. 2013 Apr;140(5):604-16. doi: 10.1017/S003118201200217X. Epub 2013 Jan 24.

The sympatric occurrence of two genetically divergent lineages of sucking louse, Polyplax arvicanthis (Phthiraptera: Anoplura), on the four-striped mouse genus, Rhabdomys (Rodentia: Muridae).

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  • 1Evolutionary Genomics Group, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Matieland, South Africa.


Within southern Africa, the widely distributed four-striped mouse genus (Rhabdomys) is parasitized by, amongst others, the specific ectoparasitic sucking louse, Polyplax arvicanthis. Given the presence of significant geographically structured genetic divergence in Rhabdomys, and the propensity of parasites to harbour cryptic diversity, the molecular systematics of P. arvicanthis was investigated. Representatives of P. arvicanthis were sampled from Rhabdomys at 16 localities throughout southern Africa. Parsimony and Bayesian gene trees were constructed for the mitochondrial COI, 12S rRNA, 16S rRNA and nuclear CAD genes. Our findings support the existence of 2 genetic groups within P. arvicanthis separated by at least 25% COI sequence divergence, which is comparable to that observed among recognized Polyplax species. We therefore propose that these 2 genetic lineages probably represent distinct species and that the apparent absence of clear morphological differences may point to cryptic speciation. The 2 taxa have sympatric distributions throughout most of the sampled host range and also occasionally occur sympatrically on the same host individual. The co-occurrence of these genetically distinct lineages probably resulted from parasite duplication via host-associated allopatric divergence and subsequent reciprocal range expansions of the 2 parasite taxa throughout southern Africa.

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