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Int J Parasitol. 2007 May;37(6):663-72. Epub 2006 Dec 28.

Experimental infections of the monogenean Gyrodactylus turnbulli indicate that it is not a strict specialist.

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School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3TL, UK.


Parasites represent a threat to endangered fish species, particularly when the parasite can host switch and the new host is vulnerable. If the parasite is highly host specific then successful host switching should be a rare occurrence; however, the host range of many parasites which are assumed to be specialists has never been tested. This includes the monogenean Gyrodactylus turnbulli, a well-studied ectoparasite found caudally on its known host, the guppy, Poecilia reticulata. In this study, we monitored parasite establishment and reproduction on a range of poeciliids and more distantly related fish. Individually maintained fish were experimentally infected with a single parasite and monitored daily to establish whether G. turnbulli could survive and reproduce on other fish species. Gyrodactylus turnbulli can infect a wider range of hosts than previously considered, highlighting the fact that host specificity can never be assumed unless experimentally tested. Our findings also have significant implications for parasite transmission to novel hosts and provide further insight into the evolutionary origins of this ubiquitous group of fish pathogens. Previous molecular evidence indicates that host switching is the key mechanism for speciation within the genus Gyrodactylus. Until recently, most Gyrodactylus spp. were assumed to be narrowly host specific. However, our findings suggest that even so-called specialist species, such as G. turnbulli, may represent a threat to vulnerable fish stocks. In view of the potential importance of host switching under artificial conditions, we propose to describe this as 'artificial ecological transfer' as opposed to 'natural ecological transfer', host switching under natural conditions.

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