Nonindigenous parasite introductions and range expansions have become a major concern because of their potential to restructure communities and impact fisheries. Molecular markers provide an important tool for reconstructing the pattern of introduction. The parasitic castrator Loxothylacus panopaei, a rhizocephalan barnacle, infects estuarine mud crabs in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern Florida. A similar parasite introduced into Chesapeake Bay before 1964, presumably via infected crabs associated with oysters from the Gulf of Mexico, was identified as L. panopaei. Our samples of this species during 2004 and 2005 show that the introduced range has expanded as far south as Edgewater, Florida, just north of the northern endemic range limit. The nonindigenous range expanded southward at a rate of up to 165 km/yr with relatively high prevalence, ranging from 30 to 93%. Mitochondrial DNA sequences from the cytochrome oxidase I gene showed that these nonindigenous L. panopaei are genetically distinct from the endemic parasites in southeastern Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The genetic difference was also associated with distinct host spectra. These results are incompatible with an eastern Gulf source population, but suggest that unrecognized genetic and phenotypic population structure may occur among Gulf of Mexico populations of Loxothylacus.
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