Abstract

Hemogregarines are the most-commonly reported hemoparasites in reptiles. In this work we analyzed samples from 572 individuals of 6 species of the wall gecko genus Tarentola from European and African countries adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea as well as from the Macaronesian islands. Screening was done using hemogregarine-specific primers for the 18S rRNA gene. Positive amplifications were sequenced so that the diversity of the hemogregarines from these hosts could be assessed within a phylogenetic framework. The results from the phylogenetic analysis showed that within Tarentola, the detected parasites are comprised of at least 4 distinct main lineages of Hepatozoon spp. In clades A and B, the new sequences clustered closely together with the ones previously known from individuals of the genus Tarentola and other species of geckos but also with those from other vertebrate host groups including skinks, snakes, iguanids, and rodents. Clade C included a sample from Tarentola angustimentalis of the Canary Islands. This sequence is the first molecular characterization of these hemogregarines in this archipelago. Until now, this lineage had only been found in lacertids, skinks, and snakes, so this infection extends the host range for this clade. Lastly, in the newly detected clade D, the retrieved parasite sequences form a group currently identified as exclusive of geckos. Our results show that geckos of Tarentola spp. harbor a great diversity of hemogregarines but also that further sampling and other tools, including a multi-locus approach using faster-evolving genetic markers, and identification of definitive hosts are needed to better understand the biology, diversity, and distribution of these parasites.

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