Comparative phylogeography between two generalist flea species reveal a complex interaction between parasite life history and host vicariance : parasite-host association matters
Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.
Background: In parasitic taxa, life history traits such as microhabitat preference and host specificity can result in differential evolutionary responses to similar abiotic events. The present study investigates the influence of vicariance and host association on the genetic structure of two generalist flea species, Listropsylla agrippinae, and Chiastopsylla rossi. The taxa differ in the time spent on the host (predominantly fur vs. nest) and level of host specificity. Results: A total of 1056 small mammals were brushed to collect 315 fleas originating from 20 geographically distinct localities in South Africa. Phylogeographic genetic structure of L. agrippinae and C. rossi were determined by making use of 315 mitochondrial COII and 174 nuclear EF1-α sequences. Both parasites show significant genetic differentiation among the majority of the sampling sites confirming limited dispersal ability for fleas. The generalist fur flea with a narrower host range, L. agrippinae, displayed geographic mtDNA spatial genetic structure at the regional scale and this pattern is congruent with host vicariance. The dating of the divergence between the L. agrippinae geographic clades co-insides with paleoclimatic changes in the region approximately 5.27 Ma and this provides some evidence for a co-evolutionary scenario. In contrast, the more host opportunistic nest flea, C. rossi, showed a higher level of mtDNA and nDNA spatial genetic structure at the inter-populational scale, most likely attributed to comparatively higher restrictions to dispersal. Conclusions: In the present study, the evolutionary history of the flea species could best be explained by the association between parasite and host (time spent on the host). The phylogeographic pattern of the fur flea with a narrower host range correspond to host spatial genetic structures, while the pattern in the host opportunistic nest flea correspond to higher genetic divergences between sampling localities that may also be associated with higher effective population sizes. These findings suggest that genetic exchange among localities are most likely explained by differences in the dispersal abilities and life histories of the flea species.