More than meets the eye: detecting cryptic microgeographic population structure in a parasite with a complex life cycle.
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Nonrandom recruitment of parasites among hosts can lead to genetic differentiation among hosts and mating dynamics that promote inbreeding. It has been hypothesized that strictly aquatic parasites with intermediate hosts will behave as panmictic populations among hosts because ample opportunity exists for random mixing of unrelated individuals during transmission to the definitive host. A previous allozyme study on the marine trematode Lecithochirium fusiforme did not support this hypothesis; in that, there was genetic differentiation among, and significant heterozygote deficiencies within, definitive hosts. We revisit this system and use microsatellites to obtain multilocus genotypes. Our goal was to determine whether cryptic subgroups and/or the presence of clones could account for the apparent deviation from 'panmixia'. We find strong evidence for cryptic subdivision (three genetic clusters) that causes the Wahlund effect and differentiation among definitive hosts. After accounting for these cryptic groups, we see panmictic genetic structure among definitive hosts that is consistent with the 'high mixing in aquatic habitats' hypothesis. We see evidence for cotransmission of clones in all three clusters, but this level of clonal structure did not have a major impact in causing deviations from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, and only affected genetic differentiation among hosts in one cluster. A cursory examination of the data may have led to incorrect conclusions about nonrandom transmission. However, it is obvious in this system that there is more than meets the eye in relation to the actual make-up of parasite populations. In general, the methods we employ will be useful for elucidating hidden patterns in other organisms where cryptic structure may be common (e.g. those with limited morphology or complex life histories).