Invasive species threat: parasite phylogenetics reveals patterns and processes of host-switching between non-native and native captive freshwater turtles
Du Preez, Louis Heyns
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One of the major threats to biodiversity involves biological invasions with direct consequences on the stability of ecosystems. In this context, the role of parasites is not negligible as it may enhance the success of invaders. The red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta elegans, has been globally considered among the worst invasive species. Since its introduction through the pet trade, T. s. elegans is now widespread and represents a threat for indigenous species. Because T. s. elegans coexists with Emys orbicularis and Mauremys leprosa in Europe, it has been suggested it may compete with the native turtle species and transmit pathogens. We examined parasite transfer from American captive to the two native species that co-exist in artificial pools of a Turtle Farm in France. As model parasite species we used platyhelminth worms of the family Polystomatidae (Monogenea) because polystomes have been described from American turtles in their native range. Phylogenetic relationships among polystomes parasitizing chelonian host species that are geographically widespread show patterns of diversification more complex than expected. Using DNA barcoding to identify species from adult and/or polystome eggs, several cases of host switching from exotic to indigenous individuals were illustrated, corroborating that parasite transmission is important when considering the pet trade and in reintroduction programmes to reinforce wild populations of indigenous species.