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DTJ Littlewood, TH Cribb, PD Olson, and RA Bray (2001)

Platyhelminth phylogenetics - a key to understanding parasitism?


The comparative method, the inference of biological processes from phylogenetic patterns, is founded on the reliability of the phylogenetic tree. In attempting to apply the comparative method to the understanding of the evolution of parasitism in the phylum Platyhelminthes, we have highlighted several points we consider to be of value along with many problems. We discuss four of these topics. Firstly, we view the group at a phylum level, in particular discussing the importance of establishing the sister taxon to the obligate parasite group, the Neodermata, for addressing such questions as the monophyly, parasitism or the endo or ectoparasitic nature of the early parasites. The variety of non-congruent phylogenetic trees presented so far, utilising either or both morphological and molecular data, gives rise to the suggestion that any evolutionary scenarios presented at this stage be treated as interesting hypotheses rather than well-supported theories. Our second point of discussion is the conflict between morphological and molecular estimates of monogenean evolution. The Monogenea presents several well-established morphological autapomorphies, such that morphology consistently estimates the group as monophyletic, whereas molecular sequence analyses indicate paraphyly, with different genes giving different topologies. We discuss the problem of reconciling gene and species trees. Thirdly, we use recent phylogenetic results on the tapeworms to interpret the evolution of strobilation, proglottization, segmentation and scolex structure. In relation to the latter, the results presented indicate that the higher cestodes are diphyletic, with one branch difossate and the other tetrafossate. Finally, we use a SSU rDNA phylogenetic tree of the Trematoda as a basis for the discussion of an aspect of the digenean life-cycle, namely the nature of the first intermediate host. Frequent episodes of host-switching, between gastropod and bivalve hosts or even into annelids, are indicated.

Platyhelminthes; parasitism; phylogenetics; Monogenea; Cestoda; Digenea; gene trees; life-history evolution
9th International Symposium on the Biology of the Turbellaria (ISBT), BARCELONA, SPAIN, JUN, 2000
  • ISSN: 0777-6276

ISSN 2295-0451 (online version)
ISSN 0777-6279 (printed version)
impact factor 2015: 0,87.

Prof. Dr. Isa Schön
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Vautierstraat 29
1000 Brussels, Belgium


Annales de la Société malacologique de Belgique
​Annales de la Société royale malacologique et zoologique de Belgique
Annales de la Société Royale Zoologique de Belgique
Belgian Journal of Zoology