Are cryptic species a problem for parasitological biological tagging for stock identification of aquatic organisms?

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The effective use of biological tags in stock assessment relies on the reliable identification of the parasites concerned. This may be compromised if cryptic species are not recognized. Here we review what is known about cryptic species in aquatic hosts and its potential importance in this respect. Although strictly cryptic species may be considered as species which can be distinguished only by molecular data, we accept the far looser but more practical definition of species that cannot be readily distinguished morphologically. Cryptic species appear to have been identified most frequently as occurring in separate host species; this is heartening in that this has no significant impact on tagging studies. But cryptic species have occasionally been identified in single hosts sympatrically and are relatively common in geographically distinct populations of the same host species. Ignorance of both kinds of occurrences has the capacity to undermine the reliability of tagging analysis. We review in detail what is known of intra- and interspecific genetic variation over geographical ranges in the trematodes, based on recent molecular studies. Although the existence of cryptic species and evidence of intraspecific variability may appear daunting, we suspect that these complexities will add, and indeed have already added, to the sophistication of the information that can be derived from tagging studies.

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