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Keywords:

  • Cestoda;
  • cryptic species;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • Felis silvestris;
  • Taenia taeniaeformis;
  • wildcat

Abstract

In modern taxonomy, DNA barcoding is particularly useful where biometric parameters are difficult to determine or useless owing to the poor quality of samples. These situations are frequent in parasitology. Here, we present an integrated study, based on both DNA barcoding and morphological analysis, on cestodes belonging to the genus Taenia, for which biodiversity is still largely underestimated. In particular, we characterized cestodes from Italian wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris), free-ranging domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) and hybrids populations. Adult taeniids were collected by post-mortem examinations of the hosts and morphologically identified as Taenia taeniaeformis. We produced cox1 barcode sequences for all the analysed specimens, and we compared them with reference sequences of individuals belonging to the genus Taenia retrieved from GenBank. In order to evaluate the performance of a DNA barcoding approach to discriminate these parasites, the strength of correlation between species identification based on classical morphology and the molecular divergence of cox1 sequences was measured. Our study provides clear evidence that DNA barcoding is highly efficient to reveal the presence of cryptic lineages within already-described taeniid species. Indeed, we detected three well-defined molecular lineages within the whole panel of specimens morphologically identified as T. taeniaeformis. Two of these molecular groups were already identified by other authors and should be ranked at species level. The third molecular group encompasses only samples collected in Italy during this study, and it represents a third candidate species, still morphologically undescribed.