Molecular identification of dorsal-spined larvae (DSL) from fecal samples indicates that the protostrongylid parasite Parelaphostrongylus odocoilei occupies a broader geographic range in western North America than has been previously reported. We analyzed 2,124 fecal samples at 29 locations from thinhorn sheep (Ovis dalli dalli and O. d. stonei), bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis and O. c. californiana), mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus), and black-tailed deer (O. h. columbianus). The DSL were recovered from populations of thinhorn sheep south, but not north, of the Arctic Circle, and they were not recovered from any of the bighorn sheep populations that we examined. In total, DSL were recovered from 20 locations in the United States and Canada (Alaska, Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, and California). The DSL were identified as P. odocoilei by comparing sequences of the second internal transcribed spacer (ITS2) region of ribosomal RNA among 9 protostrongylid species validated by adult comparative morphology. The ITS2 sequences were markedly different between Parelaphostrongylus and other protostrongylid genera. Smaller fixed differences served as diagnostic markers for the 3 species of Parelaphostrongylus. The ITS2 sequences (n = 60) of P. odocoilei were strongly conserved across its broad geographic range from California to Alaska. Polymorphism at 5 nucleotide positions was consistent with multiple copies of the ITS2 within individual specimens of P. odocoilei. This work combines extensive fecal surveys, comparative morphology, and molecular diagnostic techniques to describe comprehensively the host associations and geographic distribution of a parasitic helminth.
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