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Biogeography of helminth parasites of freshwater fishes in Mexico: the search for patterns and processes

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Abstract Aim 

To uncover and describe patterns of biogeography of helminth parasites in freshwater fishes of Mexico, and to understand processes that determine them. Three predictions about host-specificity, faunal exchange in transitional areas, and the biogeographical ‘core’ fauna, are evaluated, all of which follow from a fundamental hypothesis: that parasites show characteristic associations with particular host clades. The parasite fauna of the southern Mexican cichlids and of the fishes of the Mesa Central are examined as case studies that reflect Neotropical and Nearctic historical influences. Location 

The region covered in this study includes most of Mexico, with emphasis on six biogeographical areas: the Yucatán Peninsula (area 1), the Grijalva-Usumacinta drainage (area 2), the Papaloapan and Pánuco drainages (area 3), the Balsas drainage (area 4), the Lerma-Santiago drainage (area 5), and the Bravo drainage (area 6). Methods 

A parasite data base containing all the records of helminth parasites of freshwater fishes of Mexico was filtered to extract records of adult helminth parasites in freshwater fishes from the six biogeographical areas designated in this study. Jaccard's similarity coefficients and cluster analyses (usingupgma) were used to analyse the extent of faunal similarity between the designated biogeographical areas and between host (fish) families. Taxonomic composition of parasite assemblages in different host groups was also qualitatively compared from summary data. These data were used to test the three main predictions. Results 

To date, 184 species of helminths (120 as adults) have been recorded from 127 freshwater fishes in Mexico (almost 33% of the total fish diversity of Mexico). Of these parasite species, 69 are digenetic flukes, 51 are nematodes, 33 are monogeneans, 25 are tapeworms, and only six are acanthocephalans. The data and analyses from the six biogeographical areas corroborate the predictions that: (1) the adult parasite fauna is largely circumscribed by higher levels of monophyletic host taxa (families, orders, etc.), and that this pattern is independent of areas; (2) areas within a certain biogeographical region, and consequently with similar fish composition (e.g. areas 1, 2 and 3) have more similar parasite faunas compared to areas with less similar fish faunal composition; and (3) ‘core’ parasite faunas persist to some extent in transitional areas with limited host-sharing. Main conclusions 

Helminth biodiversity in Mexican freshwater fishes is determined by the historical and contemporary biogeography of their hosts. Host lineage specificity, mainly at the level of the host family, appears to be an important factor in the distribution of the parasites. Most fish families (Characidae, Cichlidae, Pimelodidae, Ictaluridae, Catsotomidae, Goodeidae, Atherinidae) possess their own characteristic ‘core’ helminth fauna, with limited host-sharing in transitional areas (e.g. areas 3 and 4). A re-evaluation of the helminth fauna of Mexican cichlids questions the hypothesis that cichlids lost parasites during the colonization of Mexico from South America. The evidence supports the idea that they acquired new parasites by host switching, possibly from marine or brackish-water percomorphs. In contrast, the parasite fauna of the Mesa Central remains enigmatic and reflects the region's history of endemicity with historical marine and Nearctic connections.

Keywords: Biogeography; Mexico; Nearctic; Neotropical; fishes; helminths; host specificity; parasites

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Laboratorio de Helmintología, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México D.F., México

Publication date: 2005-04-01

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