Since its introduction from Taiwan to Europe around 1980, Anguillicola crassus, a natural parasite of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica), has acquired the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) as a novel definitive host. In this host the nematode differs noticeably in its body mass and reproductive capacity from its Asian conspecifics. We conducted a common garden experiment under a reciprocal transplant design to investigate whether differences in species-diagnostic morphological traits exist between two European and one Asian population of A. crassus and if yes whether these have a genetically fixed component.
We found that worms from Germany, Poland and Taiwan differ in the size and shape of their body, oesophagus and buccal capsule. These changes are induced by both phenotypic plasticity and genetic divergence: in the European eel, nematodes from Europe as well as from Taiwan responded plastically with larger body and oesophagus dimensions compared to infections in the Japanese eel. Interestingly, the oesophagus simultaneously shows a high degree of genetically based changes being largest in the Polish s ... mehrtrain kept in A. anguilla. In addition, the size and shape of the buccal capsule has undergone a rapid evolutionary change. Polish nematodes evolved a genetically fixed larger buccal capsule than the German and Taiwanese populations. The German strain had the smallest buccal capsule.
This study provides evidence for the genetic divergence of morphological traits in A. crassus which evolved over a timescale of about 30 years. Within Europe and in the European eel host these alternations affect characters used as diagnostic markers for species differentiation. Thus we provide an explanation of the discrepancy between morphological and molecular features reported for the parasitic nematode featured here, demanding general caution in morphological diagnosis of parasites discovered in new hosts.