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Acta Tropica
Volume 218, 2021, 105905

Description of Haemoproteus asymmetricus n. sp. (Haemoproteidae), with remarks on predictability of the DNA haplotype networks in haemosporidian parasite taxonomy research

Gediminas Valkiunas, Mikas Ilgunas, Dovile Bukauskaite, Mélanie Duc, Tatjana A.Iezhova

Nature Research Centre, Akademijos 2, Vilnius 08412, Lithuania.


Haemoproteus species (Haemosporida, Haemoproteidae) are cosmopolitan blood parasites, which have been neglected for over 100-years, but attracted attention recently due to reports of severe and even lethal haemoproteosis in birds and vectors. Approximately 150 species of avian Haemoproteus have been described and named, but molecular data suggest that hundreds of independently evolving molecular lineages might occur, indicating the existence of a remarkable undescribed species diversity. It is timely to develop a methodology, which allow the application of available genetic data in taxonomy of haemosporidians on species levels. This study aimed to test a hypothesis suggesting that DNA haplotype networks might aid in targeting genetically distinct, but still undescribed parasites, and might be used to direct taxonomic studies on haemosporidian species levels. Mainly, we tested a prediction that the lineage hTUPHI01, a common Haemoproteus parasite of Turdus philomelos, might be a new species, which is morphologically similar and genetically closely related to the parasites of Haemoproteus minutus group. Blood samples of T. philomelos naturally infected with this parasite lineage were collected and studied using microscopic examination of blood films and PCR-based methods. Haemoproteus asymmetricus n. sp. was found in this bird, described and characterised molecularly using partial cytochrome b (cytb) sequences. The new species shared some features with parasites of the H. minutus group, as was predicted by the DNA haplotype network. Due to the visualisation of closely related lineages as well as the evaluation of their host and geographic distributions, DNA haplotype networks can be recommended as the helpful methodology, able to direct and speed practical work on parasite species taxonomy and pathogen biodiversity. The combined molecular phylogenetic and morphological approaches showed that the well-supported clades in Bayesian phylogenetic trees based on the partial cytb gene sequences contain morphologically remarkably different Haemoproteus parasite species, which however, share some basic biological features. Phylogenetic analysis can be used for prediction of these basic features in still undescribed parasites. This study calls for further fusion of advanced molecular and microscopy approaches for better understanding haemosporidian parasite biology.

Keywords: Haemoproteus, New species, Haemosporidian parasites, Molecular and morphological characterization, Birds, DNA haplotype network.

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