Diplostomoid metacercariae parasitize freshwater fishes worldwide and cannot be identified to species based on morphology. In this study, sequences of the barcode region of cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (CO1) were used to discriminate species in 1088 diplostomoids, most of which were metacercariae from fish collected in the St. Lawrence River, Canada. Forty-seven diplostomoid species were detected, representing a large increase in known diversity. Most species suggested by CO1 sequences were supported by sequences of internal transcribed spacer (ITS) of rDNA and host and tissue specificity. Three lines of evidence indicate that physiological incompatibility between host and parasite is a more important determinant of host specificity than ecological separation of hosts and parasites in this important group of freshwater fish pathogens. First, nearly all diplostomoid species residing outside the lens of the eyes of fish are highly host specific, while all species that occur inside the lens are generalists. This can be plausibly explained by a physiological mechanism, namely the lack of an effective immune response in the lens. Second, the distribution of diplostomoid species among fish taxa reflected the phylogenetic relationships of host species rather than their ecological similarities. Third, the same patterns of host specificity were observed in separate, ecologically distinctive fish communities.
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