Tomé B, Maia JPMC, Salvi D, Brito JC , Carretero MA, Perera A, Meimberg H, Harris DJ
Species of Hepatozoon Miller, 1908 are blood parasites most commonly found in snakes but some have been described from all tetrapod groups and a wide variety of hematophagous invertebrates. Previous studies have suggested possible associations between Hepatozoon spp. found in predators and prey. Particularly, some saurophagous snakes from North Africa and the Mediterranean region have been found to be infected with Hepatozoon spp. similar to those of various sympatric lizard hosts. In this study, we have screened tissue samples of 111 North African and Mediterranean snakes, using specific primers for the 18S rRNA gene. In the phylogenetic analysis, the newly-generated Hepatozoon spp. sequences grouped separately into five main clusters. Three of these clusters were composed by Hepatozoon spp. also found in snakes and other reptiles from the Mediterranean Basin and North Africa. In the other two clusters, the new sequences were not closely related to geographically proximate known sequences. The phylogeny of Hepatozoon spp. inferred here was not associated with intermediate host taxonomy or geographical distribution. From the other factors that could explain these evolutionary patterns, the most likely seems series of intermediate hosts providing similar ribotypes of Hepatozoon and a high prevalence of host shifts for Hepatozoon spp. This is indicated by ribotypes of high similarity found in different reptile families, as well as by divergent ribotypes found in the same host species. This potentially low host specificity has profound implications for the systematics of Hepatozoon spp.
Journal: Systematic Parasitology