Abstract:

Lungworms of the cosmopolitan genus Rhabdias are among the most common parasites of amphibians and squamate reptiles. The present study used experimental infections, field studies, and a molecular phylogeny to determine the host specificity of 6 Rhabdias spp. that infect snakes and anurans from North America. The molecular phylogeny suggests Rhabdias ranae from Nebraska and Mississippi may represent separate, cryptic species. In addition, the phylogeny strongly supports separate clades for anuran and snake lungworms. Field studies and experimental infections indicate that snake lungworms are generalist snake parasites; however, laboratory experiments also suggest that lizards can be infected under some environmental conditions. Lungworms from anurans were found not to infect salamanders or reptiles, in nature or in the laboratory; anuran lungworm species ranged from strict host specificity, e.g., R. ranae from Nebraska, to relative generalist, e.g., Rhabdias joaquinensis from Nebraska. Overall, host specificity for species of Rhabdias does not provide support for the evolution of progressive specialization over time. For most species of lungworms, host specificity in nature appears to be limited by both ecological and physiological factors, which vary between species and their hosts. Furthermore, some lungworms, e.g., Rhabdias bakeri from Missouri, appear to be tracking host resources instead of host phylogenies, an example of ecological fitting.

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