Dugesia sicula (Platyhelminthes, Tricladida): the colonizing success of an asexual Planarian
Departament de Genètica, Facultat de Biologia and Institut de Recerca de la Biodiversitat (IRBio), Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:268 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-268Published: 11 December 2013
Dugesia sicula is the only species of its genus not presenting an endemic or restricted distribution within the Mediterranean area. It mostly comprises fissiparous populations (asexual reproduction by body division and regeneration), most likely sexually sterile, and characterized by an extremely low genetic diversity interpreted as the consequence of a recent anthropic expansion. However, its fissiparous reproduction can result in an apparent lack of diversity within the species, since genetic variation within individuals can be as large as between them because most individuals within a population are clones. We have estimated haplotype and nucleotide diversity of cytochrome oxidase I within and among individuals along the species distribution of a broad sample of D. sicula, including asexual and the two only sexual populations known today; and predicted its potential distribution based on climatic variables. Our aim was to determine the centre of colonisation origin, whether the populations are recent, and whether the species is expanding.
The species presents 3 most frequent haplotypes, differing in a maximum of 11 base pairs. As expected from their fissiparous mode of reproduction, in half of all the analysed localities many individuals have multiple heteroplasmic haplotypes. The distribution of haplotypes is not geographically structured; however, the distribution of haplotypes and heteroplasmic populations shows higher diversity in the central Mediterranean region. The potential distribution predicted by climatic variables based modelling shows a preference for coastal areas and fits well with the observed data.
The distribution and frequency of the most frequent haplotypes and the presence of heteroplasmic individuals allow us to gain an understanding of the recent history of the species, together with previous knowledge on its phylogenetic relationships and age: The species most probably originated in Africa and dispersed through the central Mediterranean. After one or multiple populations became triploid and fissiparous, the species colonized the Mediterranean basin, likely both by its own means and helped by human activities. Its present distribution practically fulfils its potential distribution as modelled with climatic variables. Its prevalence in coastal regions with higher water temperatures predicts a likely future expansion to northern and more interior areas following the increase in temperatures due to climate change.