Skip to main content

Population genetics and genetic variation of Ctenocephalides felis and Pulex irritans in China by analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial genes

Abstract

Background

Fleas are the most economically significant blood-feeding ectoparasites worldwide. Ctenocephalides felis and Pulex irritans can parasitize various animals closely related to humans and are of high veterinary significance.

Methods

In this study, 82 samples were collected from 7 provinces of China. Through studying the nuclear genes ITS1 and EF-1α and two different mitochondrial genes cox1 and cox2, the population genetics and genetic variation of C. felis and P. irritans in China were further investigated.

Results

The intraspecies differences between C. felis and P. irritans ranged from 0 to 3.9%. The interspecific variance in the EF-1α, cox1, and cox2 sequences was 8.2–18.3%, while the ITS1 sequence was 50.1–52.2%. High genetic diversity was observed in both C. felis and P. irritans, and the nucleotide diversity of cox1 was higher than that of cox2. Moderate gene flow was detected in the C. felis and P. irritans populations. Both species possessed many haplotypes, but the haplotype distribution was uneven. Fu's Fs and Tajima's D tests showed that C. felis and P. irritans experienced a bottleneck effect in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Henan province. Evolutionary analysis suggested that C. felis may have two geographical lineages in China, while no multiple lineages of P.irritans were found.

Conclusions

Using sequence comparison and the construction of phylogenetic trees, we found a moderate amount of gene flow in the C. felis and P. irritans populations. Both species possessed many haplotypes, but the distribution of haplotypes varied among the provinces. Fu’s Fs and Tajima’s D tests indicated that both species had experienced a bottleneck effect in Guangxi and Henan provinces. Evolutionary analysis suggested that C. felis may have two geographical lineages in China, while no multiple lineages of P.irritans were found. This study will help better understand fleas' population genetics and evolutionary biology.

Graphical Abstract

Background

Fleas are the most economically significant blood-feeding ectoparasites worldwide. They account for 50% of skin diseases in cats and dogs at veterinary clinics [1], and > $15 billion is spent worldwide to control flea infections in companion animals [2]. Fleas are vectors for diseases such as bartonellosis, murine typhus, cat scratch disease, and the bubonic plague [3,4,5,6,7]. The cat flea Ctenocephalides felis and the human flea Pulex irritans are characterized by various hosts, including humans, carnivores, rodents, and ungulates [8, 9] and exhibit high genetic diversity and complex genetic structure. C. felis and P. irritans are closely related to human and animal life and are, therefore, of high veterinary significance [8, 10]. Understanding fleas' vector transmission and disease epidemiology will help develop strategies to prevent and control them [11, 12].

With the development of genetic technologies, which complement, to some extent, the limitations of traditional morphology, molecular biology methods have been widely used in taxonomy, systematics, and population genetics, including those of fleas [13, 14]. The genetic diversity of fleas has also been studied using nuclear markers, such as histone H3, EF-1α, ITS1, and ITS2 [13, 15,16,17]. Mitochondria caught the attention of evolutionary biologists in the 1960s because of their small size, high abundance in cells, and simple mode of inheritance [18, 19]. The rapid mutation rates of mtDNA compared with nDNA facilitates the analysis of recent divergences within and between species [20]. The mtDNA markers cytochrome c oxidase subunits 1 and 2, named cox1 and cox2, are frequently used to evaluate genetic diversity and identify cryptic species and the population structure of invertebrates [10, 21,22,23]. Van der Mescht et al. suggested in 2015 that host specificity may influence the level of intraspecies genetic differentiation [24]. Hornok et al. investigated this hypothesis in 2018 and found large differences in mitochondrial sequences in some synanthropic flea species, such as C. felis and P. irritans [25].

The genetic diversity of C. felis has so far been investigated in Africa [13], the USA [26, 27], Europe [25], Asia [28, 29], and Australia-New Zealand [10, 30, 31]. In 2020, Azrizal-Wahid et al. used cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (cox1) and II (cox2) to study the genetic lineages of the C. felis population in Malaysia and revealed two main lineages, with Malaysian haplotypes closely related to tropical haplotypes [12].

In 2019, Zurita et al. studied the classification, origin, evolution, and phylogeny of P. irritans from two populations in Spain and Argentina, using the internal transcribed spacer (ITS)1 and ITS2 and partial cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (cox1) and cytochrome b (cytb) genes. The study found a considerable degree of molecular differentiation between the two populations and found two clear geographic genetic lineages, indicating the presence of two cryptic species [17].

Fleas have previously been studied in parts of China [29, 32], but on the Chinese mainland, there have been no studies into the intraspecific genetic diversity, evolutionary relationships, or transmission patterns of C. felis and P. irritans. In this study, two nDNA markers, ITS1 and EF-1α, were combined with two different mtDNA markers, cox1 and cox2, to (i) provide detailed information that expands the knowledge of the genetic diversity of C. felis and P. irritans in various provinces of China; (ii) provide a basis for the re-evaluation of the population structure and genetic differentiation of C. felis and P. irritans in China; and (iii) infer phylogenetic relationships from the geographical distribution of different isolates.

Methods

Parasites and DNA extraction

A total of 82 fleas were obtained from different regions of China (Fig. 1). The fleas were observed and photographed with a stereomicroscope, and the features of the shape of the frons, mane, comb, and other parts were used for preliminary identification [10, 13, 25, 33,34,35]. All fleas were supplied in ≥ 70% (v/v) ethanol and stored at − 20 °C. The whole specimen was used to extract DNA. According to the specification; total genomic DNA was isolated using sodium dodecyl sulfate/proteinase K treatment, followed by spin-column purification (Wizard® SV Genomic DNA Purification System; Promega Madison, WI, USA) from the manufacturer. The sample codes, host, locality, and GenBank accession numbers are listed in Table 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1

The geographic distribution of fleas in this study

Table 1 GenBank accession numbers of C. felis and P. irritans from China

Enzymatic amplification and sequencing

ITS1 was amplified with the primers Sen-ITS1 (5ʹ-GTACACACCGCCCGTGCGTACT-3ʹ) and Rev-ITS1 (5ʹ-GCT GCGTTCTTCATCGACCC-3ʹ) [15]. The cycling was as follows: initial denaturing at 94 °C for 5 min followed by 35 cycles of 94 °C for 30 s, 58 °C for 30 s, 72 °C for 90 s, and a final elongation for 5 min at 72 °C. EF-1α was amplified using EF-1α-F (5ʹ-AATTGAAGGCCGAACGTGAG-3ʹ) and EF-1α-R (5ʹ-GATTTGCCAGTACGACGGTC-3ʹ) [13]. The cycling was as follows: initial denaturing at 95 °C for 1 min followed by 35 cycles of 95 °C for 15 s, 55 °C for 15 s, 72 °C for 10 s, and a final elongation for 5 min at 72 °C. cox1 was amplified using LCO1490 (5ʹ-GGTCAACAAATCATAAAGATATTGG-3ʹ) [36] and Cff-R [S0368] (5ʹ-GAAGGGTCAAAGAATGATGT-3ʹ) [10]. The cycling was as follows: initial denaturing at 95 °C for 1 min followed by 35 cycles of 95 °C for 15 s, 49 °C for 15 s, 72 °C for 10 s, and a final elongation for 5 min at 72 °C. cox2 was amplified using F-Leu (5ʹ-TCTAATATGGCAGATTAGTGC-3ʹ) and R-Lys (5ʹ-GAGACCAGTACTTGCTTT CAGTCATC-3ʹ) [37]. The cycling was as follows: initial denaturing at 95 °C for 3 min followed by 37 cycles of 94 °C for 30 s, 42 °C for 30 s, 72 °C for 15 s, and a final elongation for 5 min at 72 °C.

All PCR reactions (25 μl) contained 1 µl of DNA sample, 0.5 μl of each primer, 12.5 μl of 2 × Premix EmeraldAmp Max HS PCR Master Mix (TaKaRa, Dalian, China), and 10.5 μl of ddH2O. All PCRs were run on a thermocycler (Bio-Rad, Hercules, CA, USA). The results were validated by electrophoresis on 1% agarose gels. PCR products were bi-directionally sequenced by Sangon Biotech Co., Ltd. (Shanghai, China). BLAST analysis was performed on the sequencing results of four genes of all samples to further determine the species of flea collected.

Population differentiation

All  ITS1, EF-1α, cox1, and cox2 sequences were compared using Clustal X 1.83 software and then manually cut. MegAlign software was used to analyze the sequence differences among four genes [38]. The DnaSP 5.0 program was used to determine the haplotypes, nucleotide diversity (Pi), and haplotype diversity (Hd) of each gene [39]. DnaSP was also used to calculate the correlation among geographic locations, genetic differentiation index (Fst), and the corresponding gene flow (Nm) between populations [12]. For the cox1, cox2, and concatenated sequences, DnaSP 5.0 was used to calculate Tajima's D [40] and Fu’s Fs [41] statistics to study the population history of C. felis in six regions and P. irritans in two regions. DnaSP 5.0 and PopART 1.7 were used to create a statistically parsimonious network to infer haplotype relationships [42].

Sequences analysis and reconstruction of phylogenetic relationships

The EF-1α sequence and the tandem sequence of cox1 + cox2 of C. felis and P. irritans from China were compared and analyzed. For the EF-1α sequence, Megabothris calcarifer was used as the outgroup, and for cox1 + cox2, Ceratophyllus wui was used as the outgroup.

Clustal X 1.83 was used to align the sequences of these four genes separately [38], and then the EF-1α sequences and the concatenated sequences of cox1 and cox2 were compared using Gblock 0.91 [43]. Using MEGA X, the phylogenetic trees were constructed using the maximum likelihood method [44]. Relative support for the tree topology was obtained by bootstrapping using 1000 replicates.

Results

Analysis of genetic diversity

A total of 82 samples (59 C. felis and 23 P. irritans) from seven provinces in China (Table 1) were analyzed. ITS1, EF-1α, cox1, and cox2 fragments (761, 771, 491, and 571 bp, respectively) were amplified and uploaded to GenBank.

The ITS1, EF-1α, cox1, and cox2 sequences were compared. ITS1 sequence comparison showed that the intraspecific difference of C. felis was 0–0.7%, that of P. irritans was 0–3.8%, and the interspecific difference between C. felis and P. irritans was 50.1–52.2%. The results of the EF-1α sequence comparison showed that the intraspecific differences between C. felis and P. irritans were 0–1.6% and 0–1.2%, respectively, and the interspecific difference between C. felis and P. irritans was 8.2–10%. The cox1 sequence analysis showed that the intraspecific difference of C. felis was 0–3.9%, that of P. irritans was 0–3.6%, and the interspecific difference between C. felis and P. irritans was 13.3–17.9%. The cox2 sequence analysis showed that the intraspecific difference of C. felis was 0–1.9%, that of P. irritans 0–0.5%, and the interspecific difference between C. felis and P. irritans was 17.1–18.3%.

For C. felis, the Hd and Pi were 0.834 and 0.18944, respectively, according to cox1 sequence analysis. The Hd was 0.819, and the Pi was 0.02544, according to cox2 sequencing analysis. In tandem sequence analysis, the Hd was 0.901, and the Pi was 0.09145 (Table 2). In the overall mean data, the cox1 gene showed higher Hd than the cox2 gene, while for the Pi, cox1 showed higher genetic diversity than cox2. For P. irritans, Hd and Pi were 0.917 and 0.07117, respectively, according to cox1 sequence analysis. In cox2 sequence analysis, Hd and Pi were 0.889 and 0.45925, respectively. The results of tandem sequence analysis indicated that the Hd and Pi were 0.9763 and 0.29144, respectively (Table 2). The Hd of the cox1 gene was higher than that of the cox2 gene, while the genetic diversity of Pi of the cox1 gene was lower than that of the cox2 gene.

Table 2 Haplotype, nucleotide diversity, haplotype diversity, Tajima’s D, and Fu’s Fs based on cox1, cox2, and concatenated cox1 + cox2 of C. felis and P.irritans from China

According to the known classification criteria, Fst > 0.25, is defined as great differentiation; 0.15 < Fst < 0.25 is defined as moderate differentiation, and Fst < 0.15 is defined as a trivial difference [45]. According to Slatkin [46], Nm > 1 indicates high gene flow; 0.25 < Nm < 0.99 is intermediate gene flow; and Nm < 0.25 is classified as low gene flow. For C. felis, Fst, and Nm among the six regions are shown in Table 3. The overall Fst and Nm of all samples were 0.34897 and 0.93, respectively, indicating great genetic differentiation and intermediate gene flow of C. felis in China. Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Jiangsu province had the highest Fst (0.89152), while Guangdong and Shanxi provinces had the lowest Fst (− 0.05614). The Fst value of population pairs in Guangdong and Shanxi provinces was not significantly different, and the Fst values of population pairs in Hunan and Guangdong provinces and Hunan and Shanxi provinces were moderate, while the Fst values of population pairs in other regions were significantly different. Among the six sampling regions, the gene flow was the largest in Guangdong and Hunan provinces (1.66) and the smallest in Shanxi and Guangdong provinces (− 9.41). Low levels of gene flow were found between Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Hunan province, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Guangdong province, Jiangsu province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Shanxi and Guangdong provinces, and Shanxi province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Medium levels of gene flow were found between Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Henan province, Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces, Hunan and Jiangsu provinces, and Shanxi and Jiangsu provinces. High gene flow was found between the other regions. For P. irritans, the level of genetic differentiation between Henan province and Sichuan province was high (Fst = 0.37433), and the level of gene flow was intermediate (Nm = 0.84).

Table 3 Pairwise genetic differentiation (Fst: below diagonal) and gene flow (Nm: above diagonal) among C. felis populations in six regions in China

Population expansion

In the existing C. felis, the Fu’s F neutrality test of cox1, cox2, and the serial sequence were positive, except for the cox2 sequence in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and cox1, cox2, and the serial sequence in Jiangsu province. In Tajima's D neutrality test, cox1 from Jiangsu province, cox2 from Guangdong province, and cox1, cox2, and their serial sequences from Hunan province were all positive, while cox2 from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region had no Tajima’s D neutrality test value, and the rest were negative. There were no statistically significant differences except for cox1 in Henan province and cox1 and the serial sequence in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The significance of the neutrality test in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is a sign of population balance. cox2 in Henan province and cox1 and the tandem sequence in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were positive, indicating that these two regions' populations shrank dramatically because of equilibrium selection and bottleneck effects (Table 2).

For P. irritans, Fu’s F neutrality test was positive except for cox1, cox2, and the serial sequence from Sichuan province. In the neutrality test of Tajima’s D, cox2 from Sichuan province was positive, and the rest were negative. Only the cox1 test values of these two regions had statistical significance, among which the population neutral test value of Henan province was significant, a sign of population balance.

Haplotype sequence analysis

The haplotype distribution of cox1, cox2, and the concatenated cox1 + cox2 of C. felis and P. irritans are shown in Table 4. A total of 17 haplotypes were identified for cox1 (A1-17), 8 haplotypes for cox2 (B1-8), and 21 haplotypes for cox1 + cox2 (AB1-21) of C. felis. The cox1 haplotype A1 (n = 21) was the most common, followed by A4 (n = 9), and the least common types of haplotypes were A6, A7, A8, A9, A10, A11, A12, A13, A15, A16, and A17. In cox2, the most common haplotype was B4 (n = 16), followed by B1 (n = 14), and the least common haplotypes were B6 and B8. In the cox1 + cox2 series, haplotype AB1 (n = 14) was the most common, followed by AB5 (n = 9), and the least common haplotypes were AB4, AB6, AB8, AB9, AB12, AB13, AB14, AB15, AB16, AB17, AB18, AB19, AB20, and AB21.

Table 4 Haplotype distribution of C. felis and P.irritans from China based on cox1, cox2, and concatenated cox1 + cox2 genes corresponding to the seven sampling locations. The number in parentheses refers to the relative frequency of the given haplotype

For P. irritans, there were 17 haplotypes for cox1 (C1-17), 13 haplotypes for cox2 (D1-13), and 20 haplotypes for cox1 + cox2 (CD1-20). In cox1, haplotype C1 (n = 7) was the most common, while in cox2, haplotype D1 (n = 7) was the most common, followed by haplotype D2 (n = 4) and haplotype D5 (n = 2). In the cox1 + cox2 series, haplotype CD1 (n = 4) was the most common, and all the other haplotypes had one sample.

Network analysis

The complete network of haplotypes of C. felis and P. irritans was constructed (Figs. 2 and 3). In C. felis, 17 cox1 haplotypes (A1-17) were distributed in a star shape around the A1 haplotype, which contained 21 individuals, including 4 from Hunan province, 5 from Guangdong province, 5 from Jiangsu province, and 7 from Shanxi province. Henan province had the largest haplotypes, with ten haplotypes (A2, A5, A6, A7, A8, A9, A10, A11, A12, and A13), while Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region had the fewest haplotypes (A3 and A4). The A4 haplotype was found only in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the A6-A13 haplotypes were found only in Henan province, the A14 and A15 haplotypes were found only in Hunan province, the A16 haplotype was found only in Jiangsu province, and the A17 haplotype was found only in Shanxi province (Fig. 2, Table 4). Compared with cox1, cox2 haplotypes (B1–B8) were fewer and less widely distributed (Fig. 2). Guangdong province had the most haplotypes (B1–B4), while Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region had only one haplotype, B5. The B2 haplotype was found only in Guangdong province, the B6 haplotype was found only in Henan province, and the B8 haplotype was found only in Jiangsu province. Among the 21 haplotypes generated by the sequence data of the cox1 + cox2 series, AB11 was at the center of the remaining 20 haplotypes, forming a star pattern (Fig. 2). There were ten haplotypes (AB2, AB10, AB14, AB15, AB16, AB17, AB18, AB19, AB20, and AB21) in Henan province and two haplotypes (AB5 and AB64) in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, results which were the same as those of the cox1 haplotype. Haplotypes AB3 and AB4 were found only in Guangdong province, the AB5 and AB6 haplotypes were found only in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the AB14-21 haplotypes were found only in Henan province, the AB7 and AB8 haplotypes were found only in Hunan province, the AB9, AB11, and AB12 haplotypes were found only in Jiangsu province, and the AB13 haplotype was found only in Shanxi province. In the populations of C. felis, the most common haplotypes were A1 of cox1, B1 of cox2, and AB1 of cox1 + cox2 (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2
figure 2

Network maps of cox1, cox2, and the concatenated sequence haplotypes of C.felis

Fig. 3
figure 3

Network maps of cox1, cox2, and the concatenated sequence haplotypes of P.irritans

In the cox1 network of P. irritans, 16 haplotypes (C2-17) formed a star shape with the C1 haplotype as the center. C1 was the only haplotype that appeared in both Sichuan and Henan provinces. The C2-12 haplotypes were found only in Henan province, and the C13-17 haplotypes were found only in Sichuan province (Fig. 3, Table 4). Among the 13 haplotypes of cox2 (D1-13), the D2 and D3 haplotypes were found only in Sichuan province, and the D4-13 haplotypes were found only in Henan province, except D1 was found in both places (Fig. 3, Table 4). Twenty haplotypes (CD1-20) were generated from the cox1 + cox2 series data. The CD1-7 haplotypes were found only in Sichuan province, and the CD8-20 haplotypes were found only in Henan province (Fig. 3, Table 4). In the populations of P. irritans, the most common haplotypes were C1 of cox1, D1 of cox2, and CD1 of cox1 + cox2 (Fig. 3).

Phylogenetic analysis

To study the phylogenetic relationships among C. felis and P. irritans isolates from different regions in China, we analyzed sequences of EF-1α and the tandem sequences of the cox1 and cox2 genes and constructed phylogenetic trees.

The phylogenetic tree constructed based on the EF-1α is shown in Fig. 4, and the phylogenetic tree of the tandem sequences of the cox1 and cox2 genes is shown in Fig. 5. The C. felis and P. irritans samples in these two trees were separated with high support. In the evolutionary tree constructed based on EF-1α, C. felis was not divided into two distinct branches. However, in the evolutionary tree constructed from the cox1 and cox2 series, C. felis could be divided into two distinct clades; almost all the samples from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region clustered into one branch, and the rest clustered into another. In all of the evolutionary trees, P. irritans clustered into a single branch.

Fig. 4
figure 4

Phylogenetic relationships between C.felis and P.irritans based on EF-1α sequences

Fig. 5
figure 5

Phylogenetic relationships between C.felis and P.irritans based on cox1 + cox2 sequences

Discussion

Flea is one of the important blood-sucking ectoparasites in veterinary medicine, which can also seriously affect human health. With the development of molecular genetics, the understanding of flea genetic diversity and population dynamics has become the premise for elucidating flea's basic biology and population characteristics, which is of great significance for the detection and control of fleas.

This study showed high genetic diversity based on cox1 + cox2 sequences of C. felis and P. irritan from China. The overall genetic diversity of C. felis from China was higher than that of Malaysia [12], Thailand, and Fiji and Seychelles [10]. The nucleotide diversity of cox1 was higher than that of cox2 in C. felis and P. irritans. This finding is consistent with those of Lawrence et al. [10], who found higher levels of nucleotide diversity in the cox1 sequence in the C. felis population of Australia and contradicts those of Azrizal-Wahid et al. [12]. The neutral test results of Fu’s Fs and Tajima's D showed that C. felis and P. irritans in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Henan province experienced equilibrium selection and bottleneck effect. Due to long-term interactions between the parasite and the host, certain aspects of the parasite tend to closely track the biological characteristics of the host [47]. Therefore, it stands to reason that the population history of the host may influence the population history of the flea.

C. felis and P. irritan showed several common haplotypes (A1; A4; B1; B4; AB1; AB5; C1; D1; CD1) and many rare haplotypes (Figs. 2 and 3, Table 4). Multiple cox1 gene haplotypes were detected in C. felis from Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Malaysia [12, 29,30,31], and only one cox2 gene haplotype was found in C. felis from Australia [30]. However, in our study, the number of cox1 and cox2 gene haplotypes in C. felis was higher than those in the above study. The high genetic diversity of cox1 and cox2 genes in C. felis and P. irritan in China may be responsible for many haplotypes. In this study, the most common haplotypes of C. felis were A1 haplotype of cox1 sequence, B1 haplotype of cox2 sequence, and AB1 haplotype of cox1 + cox2 sequence, while the most common haplotypes of P. irritan were C1 haplotype of cox1 sequence, D1 haplotype of cox2 sequence, and CD1 haplotype of cox1 + cox2 sequence. This finding suggests that A1, B1, AB1, C1, D1, and CD1 may be the oldest haplotypes because of their higher frequency and wider distribution [48]. At the same time, the Fst values of C. felis and P. irritan were higher (Fst = 0.34897, Fst = 0.37433), indicating that the genetic differentiation of C. felis and P. irritan was greater. Ctenocephalides felis and P. irritan had moderate gene flow (Nm = 0.93, Nm = 0.84), which may result from restricted gene flow between different regions. China is a vast country with complex terrain. Flea transmission between regions may be limited despite well-developed road transportation and frequent human exchanges, resulting in a low distribution of flea haplotypes and limited gene flow.

To further understand the population outcome and genetic differentiation of fleas, C. felis and P. irritan in this study were compared with previous results. Among them, C. felis from Vietnam and Philippines matched their cox1 gene with haplotype A4 from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in this study [32]. The haplotype H1 produced by the cox2 gene from Malaysian C. felis studied by Azrizal-Wahid et al. [12] was consistent with the haplotype B5 from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in this study. For P. irritans, haplotypes C1 and C10 matched haplotypes H6 and H4 from Spain, respectively [17]. Other haplotypes in this study were not recorded in other countries, indicating that the mutations in our study may not have been dispersed or mutations in other areas have not entered our study area. From the perspective of geographical relationship, southeast Asia is relatively close to Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China, which may be the reason for the haplotype matching of C. felis.

Phylogenetic analysis based on cox1 + cox2 sequences showed that C. felis could be divided into two different branches, and C. felis from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region had undergone genetic differentiation. Our study identified two clades of C. felis from China through the cox1 and cox2 genes of mtDNA, indicating two geographical lineages. Only one branch in the evolutionary tree was constructed by EF-1α and cox1 + cox2 sequences. There were two geographical lineages of P.irritans in Spain and Argentina in previous studies, with two possible hidden species [17]. In our study, no multiple lineages of P.irritans were found, which may be due to the lack of hidden species of P.irritans in China or the limitation of sample size.

Our study showed that C. felis populations were geographically isolated, and high levels of genetic diversity and moderate levels of gene flow indicated that C. felis and P.irritans had undergone genetic differentiation and lineages recombination. C. felis may have two genetic lineages, and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has undergone genetic differentiation. In contrast, no multiple lineages have been found in human fleas. These results complement previous studies and better understand Chinese fleas population genetics and evolutionary biology.

Conclusions

In this study, 59 C. felis samples and 23 P. irritans samples from seven provinces in China were analyzed for population genetic variation and structure using the nuclear genes ITS1 and EF-1α and the mitochondrial genes cox1 and cox2. The results showed that C. felis populations were geographically isolated. The high level of genetic diversity and a moderate level of gene flow indicated that the populations of C. felis and P. irritans had undergone genetic differentiation and lineage recombination. The results of the neutral test showed that C. felis and P. irritans in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Henan province had experienced equilibrium selection and bottleneck effects. Phylogenetic results indicate that there might be two genetic lineages in C. felis, and genetic differentiation has occurred in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, while no multiple lineages were found in P. irritans. These results contribute to a better understanding of fleas' population genetics and evolutionary biology and provide a theoretical basis for further studies.

Availability of data and materials

The data that support the figures within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request. All the nucleotide sequences of ITS1, EF-1α, cox1, and cox2 of Ctenocephalides felis and Pulex irritans were deposited in GenBank under accession numbers ON113962-ON113964, ON113981-ON114059, ON561113-ON561131, ON569077-ON569087, ON398417-ON398418, ON398481-ON398482, ON398699-ON398702, ON398707-ON398709, ON399054-ON399074, ON399190-ON399208, ON399381-ON399388, ON406172-ON406194, ON455233-ON455234, ON508801-ON508824, ON561108-ON561112.

Abbreviations

PCR:

Polymerase chain reaction

mt:

Mitochondrial

ITS1:

Internal transcribed spacer 1

ITS2:

Internal transcribed spacer 2

EF-1α:

Elongation factor 1-alpha

cox1:

Cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1

cox2:

Cytochrome c oxidase subunit 2

cytb:

Cytochrome b

ML:

Maximum likelihood

References

  1. Kramer F, Mencke N. Flea biology and control. Berlin: Springer; 2001.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. Nisbet AJ, Huntley JF. Progress and opportunities in the development of vaccines against mites, fleas and myiasis-causing flies of veterinary importance. Parasite Immunol. 2006;28:165–72.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Vobis M, Haese JD, Mehlhorn H, Mencke N. Evidence of horizontal transmission of feline leukemia virus by the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). Parasitol Res. 2003;91:467–70.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Shaw SE, Kenny MJ, Tasker S, Birtles RJ. Pathogen carriage by the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis (Bouch’e) in the United Kingdom. Vet Microbiol. 2004;102:183–8.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Rust MK. Advances in the control of Ctenocephalides felis (cat flea) on cats and dogs. Trends Parasitol. 2005;21:232–6.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Eisen RJ, Gage KL. Transmission of flea-borne zoonotic agents. Annu Rev Entomol. 2012;57:61–82.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Iannino F, Sulli N, Maitino A, Pascucci I, Pampiglione G, Salucci S. Fleas of dog and cat: species, biology and flea-borne diseases. Vet Ital. 2017;53:277–88.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Bitam I, Dittmar K, Parola P, Whiting MF, Raoult D. Fleas and flea-borne diseases. Int J Infect Dis. 2010;14:e667-676.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Yeruham I, Koren O. Severe infestation of a she-ass with the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis felis (Bouche, 1835). Vet Parasitol. 2003;115:365–7.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Lawrence AL, Brown GK, Peters B, Spielman DS, Morin-Adeline V, Šlapeta J. High phylogenetic diversity of the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) at two mitochondrial DNA markers. Med Vet Entomol. 2014;28:330–6.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Tabachnick WJ, Black WC. Making a case for molecular population genetic studies of arthropod vectors. Parasitol Today. 1995;11:27–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Azrizal-Wahid N, Sofian-Azirun M, Low VL. New insights into the haplotype diversity of the cosmopolitan cat flea Ctenocephalides felis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae). Vet Parasitol. 2020;281:109102.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Lawrence AL, Webb CE, Clark NJ, Halajian A, Mihalca AD, Miret J, et al. Out-of-Africa, human-mediated dispersal of the common cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis: the hitchhiker’s guide to world domination. Int J Parasitol. 2019;5:321–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Van der Mescht L, Matthee S, Matthee CA. New taxonomic and evolutionary insights relevant to the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis: a geographic perspective. Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2020;155:106990.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Vobis M, D’Haese J, Mehlhorn H, Mencke N, Blagburn BL, Bond R, et al. Molecular phylogeny of isolates of Ctenocephalides felis and related species based on analysis of ITS1, ITS2 and mitochondrial 16S rDNA sequences and random binding primers. Parasitol Res. 2004;94:219–26.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Marrugal A, Callejón M, de Rojas R, Halajian A, Cutillas C. Morphological, biometrical, and molecular characterization of Ctenocephalides felis and Ctenocephalides canis isolated from dogs from different geographical regions. Parasitol Res. 2013;112:2289–98.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Zurita A, Callejon R, García-Sanchez AM, Urdapilleta M, Lareschi M, Cutillas C. Origin, evolution, phylogeny and taxonomy of Pulex irritans. Med Vet Entomol. 2019;33:296–311.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Nass MM, Nass S. Fibrous structures within the matrix of developing chick embryo mitochondria. Exp Cell Res. 1962;26:424–7.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Brown WM, George M Jr, Wilson AC. Rapid evolution of animal mitochondrial DNA. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 1979;76:1967–71.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. Avise JC, Arnold J, Ball RM, Bermingham E, Lamb T, Neigel JE, et al. Intraspecific phylogeography: the mitochondrial DNA bridge between population genetics and systematics. Annu Rev Ecol Syst. 1987;18:489–522.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Brinkerhoff RJ, Martin AP, Jones RT, Collinge SK. Population genetic structure of the prairie dog flea and plague vector Oropsylla hirsuta. Parasitology. 2011;138:71–9.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Scheffers BR, Joppa LN, Pimm SL, Laurance WF. What we know and don’t know about Earth’s missing biodiversity. Trends Ecol Evol. 2012;27:501–10.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Dantas-Torres F, Latrofa MS, Annoscia G, Giannelli A, Parisi A, Otranto D. Morphological and genetic diversity of Rhipicephalus sanguineus sensu lato from the New and Old Worlds. Parasite Vector. 2013;6:213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Van der Mescht L, Matthee S, Matthee CA. Comparative phylogeography between two generalist flea species reveal a complex interaction between parasite life history and host vicariance: parasite-host association matters. BMC Evol Biol. 2015;15:105.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. Hornok S, Beck R, Farkas R, Grima A, Otranto D, Kontschán J, et al. High mitochondrial sequence divergence in synanthropic flea species (Insecta: Siphonaptera) from Europe and the Mediterranean. Parasite Vector. 2018;11:221.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. McKern AJ, Szalanski AL, Austin JW, Gold RE. Genetic diversity of field populations of the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, and the human flea, Pulex irritans, in the South Central United States. J Agr Urban Entomo. 2008;4:259–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Šlapeta Š, Šlapeta J. Molecular identity of cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) from cats in Georgia, USA carrying Bartonella clarridgeiae, Bartonella henselae and Rickettsia sp. RF2125. Vet Parasitol Reg Stud Report. 2016;3:36–40.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Hii SF, Lawrence AL, Cuttell L, Tynas R, Abd Rani PA, Slapeta J, et al. Evidence for a specific host-endosymbiont relationship between’ Rickettsia sp. genotype RF2125’ and Ctenocephalides felis orientis infesting dogs in India. Parasite Vector. 2015;8:169.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Šlapeta J, Lawrence A, Reichel MP. Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) carrying Rickettsia felis and Bartonella species in Hong Kong. Parasitol Int. 2018;67:209–12.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Šlapeta J, King J, McDonell D, Malik R, Homer D, Hannan P, et al. The cat flea (Ctenocephalides f. felis) is the dominant flea on domestic dogs and cats in Australian veterinary practices. Vet Parasitol. 2011;180:383–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Chandra S, Forsyth M, Lawrence AL, Emery D, Šlapeta J. Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) from cats and dogs in New Zealand: molecular characterisation, presence of Rickettsia felis and Bartonella clarridgeiae and comparison with Australia. Vet Parasitol. 2017;234:25–30.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. ColellaV Nguyen VL, Tan DY, Lu N, Fang F, Zhijuan Y, et al. Zoonotic vectorborne pathogens and ectoparasites of dogs and cats in Eastern and Southeast Asia. Emerg Infect Dis. 2020;26:1221–33.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Whitaker AP. Fleas—siphonaptera. Shrewsbury: Field Studies Council; 2007. p. 1–178.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Szabó I. Bolhák—siphonaptera. In: Hungariae F, editor. 123 volume XV: 18. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó; 1975. p. 1–96.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Linardi PM, Santos JL. Ctenocephalides felis felis vs Ctenocephalides canis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae): some issues in correctly identify these species. Rev Bras Parasitol Vet. 2012;21:345–54.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Folmer O, Black M, Hoeh W, Lutz R, Vrijenhoek R. DNA primers for amplification of mitochondrial cytochrome coxidase subunit I from diverse metazoan invertebrates. Mol Mar Biol Biotechnol. 1994;3:294–9.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. Whiting MF. Mecoptera is paraphyletic: multiple genes and phylogeny of Mecoptera and Siphonaptera. Zool Scr. 2000;31:93–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Thompson JD, Gibson TJ, Plewniak F, Jeanmougin F, Higgins DG. The Clustal X windows interface: flexible strategies for multiple sequence alignment aided by quality analysis tools. Nucleic Acids Res. 1997;24:4876–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Librado P, Rozas J. DnaSP v5: a software for comprehensive analysis of DNA polymorphism data. Bioinformatics. 2009;25:1451–2.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Tajima F. Statistical method for testing the neutral mutation hypothesis by DNA polymorphism. Genetics. 1989;123:585–95.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  41. Fu YX. Statistical tests of neutrality of mutations against population growth, hitchhiking and background selection. Genetics. 1997;147:915–25.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  42. Leigh JW, Bryant D. Popart: full-feature software for haplotype network construction. Methods Ecol Evol. 2015;6:1110–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Castresana J. Selection of conserved blocks from multiple alignments for their use in phylogenetic analysis. Mol Biol Evol. 2000;17:540–52.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. Kumar S, Stecher G, Li M, Knyaz C, Tamura K. MEGA X: molecular evolutionary genetics analysis across computing platforms. Mol Biol Evol. 2018;35:1547–9.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  45. Wright S. Evolution and genetics of populations. Chicago: University of Chicago; 1978.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Slatkin M. Estimating levels of gene flow in natural populations. Genetics. 1981;99:323–35.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  47. Louhi KR, Karvonen A, Rellstab C, Jokela J. Is the population genetic structure of complex life cycle parasites determined by the geographic range of the most motile host? Infect Genet Evol. 2010;10:1271–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Posada D, Crandall KA. Intraspecific gene genealogies: trees grafting into networks. Trends Ecol Evol. 2001;16:37–45.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Not applicable.

Funding

The study was partially funded by the Training Program for Excellent Young Innovators of Changsha (Grant No. KQ2106044). The funders had no role in the study's design, in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data, in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

GHL and WL conceived and designed the study. YZ performed the experiments, analyzed the data, and drafted the manuscript. YN, LYL, and SYC participated in the implementation of the study. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Guo-Hua Liu or Wei Liu.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate

The study protocol has been reviewed and approved by the Animal Ethics Committee of Hunan Agricultural University (No. 43321503).

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhang, Y., Nie, Y., Li, LY. et al. Population genetics and genetic variation of Ctenocephalides felis and Pulex irritans in China by analysis of nuclear and mitochondrial genes. Parasites Vectors 15, 266 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13071-022-05393-6

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s13071-022-05393-6

Keywords

  • Ctenocephalides felis
  • Pulex irritans
  • Population genetics
  • Evolutionary biology
  • ITS1
  • EF-1α
  • cox1
  • cox2