California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) and northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) are each believed to host distinct hookworm species (Uncinaria spp.). However, a recent morphometric analysis suggested that a single species parasitizes multiple pinniped hosts, and that the observed differences are host-induced. To explore the systematics of these hookworms and test these competing hypotheses, we obtained nucleotide sequences of nuclear ribosomal DNA (D2/D3 28S, D18/D19 28S, and internal transcribed spacer [ITS] regions) from 20 individual hookworms parasitizing California sea lion and northern fur seal pups where their breeding grounds are sympatric. Five individuals from an allopatric population of California sea lions were also sampled for ITS-1 and D18/D19 28S sequences. The 28S D2/D3 sequences showed no diagnostic differences among hookworms sampled from individual sea lions and fur seals, whereas the 28S D18/D19 sequences had one derived (apomorphic) character demarcating hookworms from northern fur seals. ITS sequences were variable for 7 characters, with 4 derived (apomorphic) states in ITS-1 demarcating hookworms from California sea lions. Multivariate analysis of morphometric data also revealed significant differences between nematodes representing these 2 host-associated lineages. These results indicate that these hookworms represent 2 species that are not distributed indiscriminately between these host species, but instead exhibit host fidelity, evolving independently with each respective host species. This evolutionary approach to analyzing sequence data for species delimitation is contrasted with similarity-based methods that have been applied to numerous diagnostic studies of nematode parasites.
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