Detailed morphological structure and phylogenetic relationships of Degeeriella punctifer (Phthiraptera: Philopteridae), a parasite of the bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus (Accipitriformes: Accipitridae)

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2023
Authors:J. M. Pérez, Sáez, Á., Liébanas, G., Rossi, L., Fernández, M., Fraija-Fernández, N.
Journal:Scientific reports
Date Published:Jan-10-2023
Keywords:ecology, genetics, Zoology

Habitat loss is one of the main threats to species survival and, in the case of parasites, it is their hosts that provide their habitat. Therefore, extinction even at local scale of host taxa also implies the extinction of their parasites in a process known as co-extinction. This is the case of the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), which almost became extinct at the beginning of the twentieth century. After several attempts, this species was successfully reintroduced into the Alps at the end of the twentieth century. We collected 25 lice specimens from an electrocuted bearded vulture from Susa (Italian Alps) that were morphologically identified as Degeeriella punctifer. Six individuals were studied by scanning electron microscopy, with particular emphasis on their cephalic sensorial structures, while four further specimens were characterized at molecular level by amplifying partial regions of the 12SrRNA, COX1 and elongation factor 1 alpha (EF-1) genes. From a morphological perspective, the number, type and arrangement of the sensillae on the two distal antennal segments is quite similar to that of other species of the family Philopteridae (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera). The mandibles and tarsal claws allow lice to cling firmly to their host’s feathers. Phylogenetic analyses help unravel the paraphyletic nature of the genus Degeeriella and demonstrate the clear differentiation between lice parasitizing Accipitriformes and Falconiformes, as well as the close relationship between D. punctifer, D. fulva, D. nisus and Capraiella sp. that, along with other genera, parasitize rollers (Aves: Coraciiformes).

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