The double odyssey of Madagascan polystome flatworms leads to new insights on the origins of their amphibian hosts
Du Preez, Louis H
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Polystomatid flatworms are parasites of high host specificity, which mainly infect amphibian hosts. Only one polystome species has so far been recorded from Madagascar despite the high species richness and endemicity of amphibians on this island. Out of the 86 screened Malagasy frog species, we recovered polystomes from 25 in the families Ptychadenidae and Mantellidae. Molecular phylogenetic analysis uncovered an unexpected diversity of polystome species belonging to two separate clades: one forming a lineage within the genus Metapolystoma, with one species in Ptychadena and several species in the mantellid host genera Aglyptodactylus and Boophis; and the second corresponding to an undescribed genus that was found in the species of the subfamily Mantellinae in the family Mantellidae. The phylogenetic position of the undescribed genus along with molecular dating suggests that it may have colonized Madagascar in the Late Mesozoic or Early Cainozoic. By contrast, the more recent origin of Metapolystoma in Madagascar at ca 14–2 Myr ago strongly suggests that the ancestors of Ptychadena mascareniensis colonized Madagascar naturally by overseas dispersal, carrying their Metapolystoma parasites. Our findings provide a striking example of how parasite data can supply novel insights into the biogeographic history of their hosts.