The acanthocephalan Acanthosentis cheni was found in anadromous, freshwater, and landlocked stocks of its fish host, Coilia nasus. To examine the genetic variations of the acanthocephalan among the 3 populations with the adaptation of the host to the freshwater, the genetic structure of the helminth was investigated in anadromous (Zhoushan and Chongming islands, and Anqing), freshwater (Anqing, Ezhou, and Poyang Lake), and landlocked (Tian'ezhou Reserve) populations by sequencing intergenic transcribed spacers (ITS) of the ribosomal RNA coding genes. Low Fst values and high gene flow were found among the 7 populations (Fst = 0.0135, P = 0.2723; Nm = 36.48) and the 3 ecotypes of Acanthosentis cheni (Fst = 0.0178, P = 0.1044; Nm = 27.67). On the other hand, significant genetic differentiation of the C. nasus host populations was detected between the upstream and downstream areas of Xiaogu Mountain (Fst = 0.1961, P = 0.0030; Nm = 2.05), which is the farthest location of spawning migration for C. nasus. However, the migration break of the fish host appeared not to cause significant genetic differentiation of A. cheni populations between the upper and lower reaches of Xiaogu Mountain. Other factors might promote genetic exchange of A. cheni populations such as dispersal of the intermediate host by flooding or other fish species serving as the definitive or paratenic hosts. In Anqing, nucleotide diversity of the acanthocephalan was highest in the freshwater population (0.0038) and lower in the anadromous population (0.0026). This suggested that new mutations may have occurred in the freshwater A. cheni population in Anqing when adapting to a freshwater environment.

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