Molecular and morphological divergence in a pair of bird species and their ectoparasites

Noah K. Whiteman, Vishal S. Dosanjh, Ricardo L. Palma, Joshua M. Hull, Rebecca T. Kimball, Pablo Sánchez, José Hernán Sarasola, Patricia G. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In an evolutionary context, parasites tend to be morphologically conservative relative to their hosts. However, the rate of neutral molecular evolution across many parasite lineages is faster than in their hosts. Although this relationship is apparent at the macroevolutionary scale, insight into the processes underpinning it may be gained through investigations at the microevolutionary scale. Birds and their ectoparasitic lice have served as important natural experiments in co-evolution. Here, we compared mitochondrial and morphological divergence in 2 recently diverged avian host lineages and their parasites. Glapagos hawks (Buteo galapagoensis) are phenotypically divergent from their closest mainland relatives, the Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni). Both species are host to a feather louse species of Craspedorrhynchus (Insecta: Phthiraptera: Ischnocera, Philopteridae). We sequenced the 5′ end of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase c subunit I (COI) from a set of hawks and lice. Although this fragment allowed unambiguous identification of host and parasite lineages on the islands and the mainland, only a single variable site was present in the 2 hosts, but 2 major Craspedorrhynchus clades divergent by ∼10 were recovered that sorted perfectly with host species. We found significant population genetic structure within the Galpagos Craspedorrhynchus lineage. While the host species are highly differentiated phenotypically, the 2 Craspedorrhynchus louse lineages are phenotypically overlapping, although subtle but significant morphological differences exist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1372-1382
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Parasitology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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