A parasite reveals cryptic phylogeographic history of its host

C. Nieberding, S. Morand, R. Libois, J. R. Michaux

Abstract

This study compares the continental phylogeographic patterns of two wild European species linked by a host–parasite relationship: the field mouse Apodemus sylvaticus and one of its specific parasites, the nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus. A total of 740 base pairs (bp) of the mitochondrial cytochrome b (cyt b) gene were sequenced in 122 specimens of H. polygyrus and compared with 94 cyt b gene sequences (974 bp) previously acquired for A. sylvaticus. The results reveal partial spatial and temporal congruences in the differentiation of both species' lineages: the parasite and its host present three similar genetic and geographical lineages, i.e. Western European, Italian and Sicilian, and both species recolonized northwestern Europe from the Iberian refuge at the end of the Pleistocene. However, H. polygyrus presents three particular differentiation events. The relative rate of molecular evolution of the cyt b gene was estimated to be 1.5–fold higher in the parasite than in its host. Therefore, the use of H. polygyrus as a biological magnifying glass is discussed as this parasite may highlight previously undetected historical events of its host. The results show how incorporating phylogeographic information of an obligate associate can help to better understand the phylogeographic pattern of its host.