Four hundred Gyrodactylus species have been formally described, but the estimated number of species in this fish ectoparasite genus of Monogenean Platyhelminthes is more than 20,000. The unusually high species richness has lead to the hypotheses of speciation and adaptive radiation via host switching. These hypotheses were tested by reconstructing a molecular phylogeny for the subgenus G. (Limnonephrotus) which is a group of freshwater parasites, including five species infecting wild and farmed salmonids. The highly variable ITS1 and ITS2 segments and the conservative 5.8S ribosomal gene were sequenced in 22 species plus two species representing the subgenus G. (Paranephrotus) as an outgroup. The phylogeny was compared with host systematics: the species were collected from six fish families (Cyprinidae, Salmonidae, Percidae, Esocidae, Gasterosteidae, and Gobitidae). The phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that G. (Limnonephrotus) is a monophyletic group that was originally hosted by cyprinids. The speciation has occurred in two episodes, the older one manifested in genetic distances 25–33% (4–6 Myr BP). The latter speciation burst occurred in one clade only, perhaps one million years ago. This clade has been morphologically identified as a wageneri species group. It is a monophyletic group of 18 species [studied here] and contains all five salmonid parasites, but also parasites, on cyprinids, percids, esocids, and gasterosteids. In G. (Limnonephrotus), eight host switches crossing the host family barrier were observed, and at least three of them were followed by repetitive speciation. Seven host-switch events were statistically confirmed by bootstrapping. The suggested model of speciation by host switch was accepted, and interestingly the adaptive radiation seems to be a consequence of host switch to a new family (key innovation model). The molecular and ecological evolution rate of Gyrodactylus parasites is manyfold in comparison to host species, and the phylogenies are largely independent and disconnected.
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Vol. 56 • No. 12