Molecular and morphological characterization of Haemoproteus (Parahaemoproteus) ptilotis, a parasite infecting Australian honeyeaters (Meliphagidae), with remarks on prevalence and potential cryptic speciation
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Avian Haemoproteus (Haemosporida) parasites occur in birds on all continents apart from Antarctica. Molecular screening techniques have uncovered previously unforeseen levels of Haemoproteus lineage diversity; however, fewer than 20 % of genetic parasite lineages have been linked to morphological descriptions. The process of linking morphological descriptions to DNA barcodes for Haemoproteus spp. is important for the study of host-parasite interactions and the potential for cryptic speciation. Here, we describe cytochrome-b barcodes and morphological diagnostics for the identification of Haemoproteus (Parahaemoproteus) ptilotis, a systematically confusing parasite found in Australian honeyeaters (family Meliphagidae). We characterised infections from the original type host (Lichenostomus chrysops; Family Meliphagidae) as well as from four co-occurring meliphagid species in southeast Queensland, Australia, to investigate intraspecific variation in morphology and lineage identity. We recorded eight lineages that grouped into a well-supported monophyletic group, supporting the linkage of the described lineages to H. ptilotis. However, comparisons of diagnostics between the type host and co-occurring meliphagid hosts revealed high genetic diversity and variable morphology that could be indicative of cryptic speciation. This study highlights that morphological descriptions alongside molecular characterisation remain crucial if we are to gain an understanding of the true diversity and host specificity of protozoan parasites in Australia and elsewhere.
© 2015 Springer Berlin / Heidelberg. This is an electronic version of an article published in Parasitology Research, Vol. 114 (5), pp. 1921-1928, 2015. Parasitology Research is available online at: http://link.springer.com/ with the open URL of your article.