Schistosome blood flukes parasitize birds, mammals, and crocodilians and are responsible for causing one of the great neglected diseases of humanity, schistosomiasis. A phylogenetic study of 10 schistosome genera using approximately 1,100 bases of the large subunit of the nuclear ribosomal gene complex revealed 2 major clades. One clade is entirely mammalian and includes the genera Schistosoma and Orientobilharzia. A close examination of relationships in this group suggests that the medically important Schistosoma arose in Asia and not in Africa as generally presumed and is paraphyletic. The second clade is primarily avian, consisting of 6 genera of exclusively avian parasites and 2 genera of North American mammal flukes. These results indicate a secondary host capture of mammals on the North American continent. This study provides little evidence concerning the ancestral molluscan or vertebrate schistosome host but does demonstrate that host switching has been an important feature of schistosome evolution. Evidence also indicates that the reduced sexual dimorphism characteristic of some avian schistosomes is derived evolutionarily.
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