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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A hitchhikers guide to the Galápagos: co-phylogeography of Galápagos mockingbirds and their parasites

Jan Štefka12*, Paquita EA Hoeck3, Lukas F Keller3 and Vincent S Smith1

Author affiliations

1 Entomology Department, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 5BD, London, UK

2 Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia and Biology Centre ASCR, Institute of Parasitology, Branisovska 31, 37005 Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic

3 Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:284  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-284

Published: 3 October 2011

Abstract

Background

Parasites are evolutionary hitchhikers whose phylogenies often track the evolutionary history of their hosts. Incongruence in the evolutionary history of closely associated lineages can be explained through a variety of possible events including host switching and host independent speciation. However, in recently diverged lineages stochastic population processes, such as retention of ancestral polymorphism or secondary contact, can also explain discordant genealogies, even in fully co-speciating taxa. The relatively simple biogeographic arrangement of the Galápagos archipelago, compared with mainland biomes, provides a framework to identify stochastic and evolutionary informative components of genealogic data in these recently diverged organisms.

Results

Mitochondrial DNA sequences were obtained for four species of Galápagos mockingbirds and three sympatric species of ectoparasites - two louse and one mite species. These data were complemented with nuclear EF1α sequences in selected samples of parasites and with information from microsatellite loci in the mockingbirds. Mitochondrial sequence data revealed differences in population genetic diversity between all taxa and varying degrees of topological congruence between host and parasite lineages. A very low level of genetic variability and lack of congruence was found in one of the louse parasites, which was excluded from subsequent joint analysis of mitochondrial data. The reconciled multi-species tree obtained from the analysis is congruent with both the nuclear data and the geological history of the islands.

Conclusions

The gene genealogies of Galápagos mockingbirds and two of their ectoparasites show strong phylogeographic correlations, with instances of incongruence mostly explained by ancestral genetic polymorphism. A third parasite genealogy shows low levels of genetic diversity and little evidence of co-phylogeny with their hosts. These differences can mostly be explained by variation in life-history characteristics, primarily host specificity and dispersal capabilities. We show that pooling genetic data from organisms living in close ecological association reveals a more accurate phylogeographic history for these taxa. Our results have implications for the conservation and taxonomy of Galápagos mockingbirds and their parasites.