Host-parasite coevolution in New Zealand: how has Odontacarus, a mite with a free-living stage in its life-cycle, coevolved with its skink host?
The effect of a free-living stage in host-parasite coevolution: a skink mite phylogenetic study in New Zealand. During the last decade, phylogenetic trees have even been used to compare ecologically related taxa such as parasites and their hosts, and are used to determine their level of coevolution or reciprocal adaptation in time. Diverse coevolutionary events have been detected for this ecological association, where generally the parasite has been regarded as one that feeds exclusively on the host and is likely to cospeciate with it. A different coevolutionary pattern might occur when the parasite has a free-living stage in its life cycle, in which the parasite may have the opportunity to abandon its host and successfully colonise a new species (host-switching) making cospeciation less likely. Many New Zealand skinks are infested with a parasitic mite, Odontacarus sp. (Prostigmata: Leeuwenhoekiidae), which becomes free-living as an adult. The genetic variation of these mites found on four hosts was analyzed for host- parasite coevolutionary events. The hosts were the McCann’s skink and the common skink in coastal Birdling Flat, Canterbury, plus these species and the Grand and Otago skinks in Macraes Flat, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand. The genetic variation of fast evolving nuclear Internal Transcribed Spacers 2 and mitochondrial Cytochrome c Oxidase I in Odontacarus mites found on these hosts was determined by PCR and DNA sequencing and phylogenetic trees were built using the computer programs PAUP*4 and MrBayes 3. The results show that mite haplotypes only had a significant geographical division and no host-related differences. In Birdling Flat, the COI haplotypes were represented in two groups that infested both regional hosts and had 5.7 % divergence. The same individual mites belonged to a single ITS 2 haplotype, thus indicating a historical geographical division between two populations that now interbreed successfully. The Macraes Flat mites were divided into two COI haplotypes with 2.4% divergence and internal nodes, which showed greater genetic variability than the Birdling Flat populations. The Macraes Flat mites formed two ITS 2 haplotypes with 6% divergence. This greater geographical structure of the Otago mites is probably due to the older age of the mainland area compared to the recently exposed coastal locality of Birdling Flat. The COI haplotypes from the two different regions had a mean distance of 15.5%, with an earlier divergence time than that known for the hosts. For both genes, the haplotypes from different regions had 100% bootstrap support and the parasite showed no host specificity. Mites of the different COI and ITS haplotypes were found on most of the host species that were sampled in Canterbury and Otago. The results of this study suggest that a free-living stage in a parasite’s life cycle can favour coevolutionary events such as inertia (failure to speciate) and host-switching, probably as a result of resource-tracking of the parasite. NB: Electronic files contained on CD to accompany print copy are not included with this version of the thesis.... [Show full abstract]