Life cycles, molecular phylogeny and historical biogeography of the 'pygmaeus' microphallids (Digenea: Microphallidae): widespread parasites of marine and coastal birds in the Holarctic

Parasitology. 2012 Sep;139(10):1346-60. doi: 10.1017/S0031182012000583. Epub 2012 May 1.


The 'pygmaeus' microphallids (MPG) are a closely related group of 6 digenean (Platyhelminthes: Trematoda) Microphallus species that share a derived 2-host life cycle in which metacercariae develop inside daughter sporocysts in the intermediate host (intertidal and subtidal gastropods, mostly of the genus Littorina) and are infective to marine birds (ducks, gulls and waders). Here we investigate MPG transmission patterns in coastal ecosystems and their diversification with respect to historical events, host switching and host-parasite co-evolution. Species phylogenies and phylogeographical reconstructions are estimated on the basis of 28S, ITS1 and ITS2 rDNA data and we use a combination of analyses to test the robustness and stability of the results, and the likelihood of alternative biogeographical scenarios. Results demonstrate that speciation within the MPG was not associated with co-speciation with either the first intermediate or final hosts, but rather by host-switching events coincident with glacial cycles in the Northern Hemisphere during the late Pliocene/Pleistocene. These resulted in the expansion of Pacific biota into the Arctic-North Atlantic and periodic isolation of Atlantic and Pacific populations. Thus we hypothesize that contemporary species of MPG and their host associations resulted from fragmentation of populations in regional refugia during stadials, and their subsequent range expansion from refugial centres during interstadials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / parasitology
  • Arctic Regions
  • Bird Diseases / parasitology
  • Bird Diseases / transmission
  • Birds
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / physiology*
  • Life Cycle Stages*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Trematoda / classification*
  • Trematoda / genetics*
  • Trematode Infections / parasitology*
  • Trematode Infections / transmission


  • DNA, Ribosomal