Sandflies of the Phlebotomus perniciosus complex: mitochondrial introgression and a new sibling species of P. longicuspis in the Moroccan Rif

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The bloodsucking adult females of Phlebotomus perniciosus Newstead and P. longicuspis Nitzulescu (Diptera: Psychodidae) are important vectors of the protozoan Leishmania infantum Nicolle (Kinetoplastida: Trypanosomatidae) in western Mediterranean countries. The species status of the two phlebotomine sandflies was assessed, along with the epidemiological implications. Individual sandflies from three Moroccan Rif populations were characterized morphologically, isoenzymatically (by the isoelectrofocusing of alleles at the polymorphic enzyme loci of HK, GPI and PGM), and by comparative DNA sequence analysis of a fragment of mitochondrial Cytochrome b (mtDNA). By reference to the character profiles of specimens from other locations, including southern Spain and the type-locality countries, the Moroccan flies were placed in three lineages: first, the lineage of P. perniciosus, which contained two mtDNA sublineages, one (pnt) widely distributed and associated with the morphology of the male types from Malta, and the other (pna) associated with a P. longicuspis-like male morphology; second, the lineage of P. longicuspis sensu stricto, including typical forms from Tunisia; and third, a new sibling species of P. longicuspis. The mtDNA sublineage (pnt) of typical P. perniciosus was also found in some P. longicuspis from Morocco, indicating interspecific hybridization. The typical race of P. perniciosus occurs in Italy as well as in Malta, Tunisia and Morocco. It is replaced in southern Spain by the Iberian race (with the pni mtDNA sublineage). The discovery of interspecific gene introgression and a new sibling species mean that previous records of the two morphospecies do not necessarily reflect their true vectorial roles or geographical and ecological distributions.

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