University of Leeds researchers discover novel cryptic ectoparasites with implications for disease monitoring and bat conservation

An important area of biodiversity research is the discovery of new species with the potential to act as disease vectors, because of their relevance to human health and impacts on other species.

A recent study by former University of Leeds PhD student Dr Laura Najera Cortazar and Dr Simon Goodman has found that some bats in North America carry a high diversity of novel ectoparasites (parasites that live on the outside of their hosts such as ticks) some of which might have the potential to transmit dieseases across species.

The team sampled parasitic bugs, flies and ticks found on seventeen species of bat in north western Mexico, specifically the Baja California peninsula and at three separate sites in western continental Mexico. Analysis of the DNA sequences from these ectoparasite species revealed that most specimens had no close match to existing data, and are therefore likely to represent new undescribed species. 

Bat ectoparasites are sometimes involved in spreading bacterial and viral diseases to other species, with potentially dangerous results. The work done by Dr Cortazar and Dr Goodman will help with the design of disease surveillance programmes, and the conservation of bats and their parasites in the area.

“This work is a first step in characterizing ectoparasite diversity over the Baja California peninsula, and understanding how ecological and evolutionary interactions shape bat ectoparasite communities among host species in different parts of their ranges.”

Najera-Cortazar, L. A., Keen, A., Kitching, T., Stokes, D., & Goodman, S. J. (2023). Phylogenetic analyses reveal bat communities in North western Mexico harbor a high diversity of novel cryptic ectoparasite species. Ecology and Evolution, 13, e9645.

Click here to read the study in full.

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