Molecular insight into systematics, host associations, life cycles and geographic distribution of the nematode family Rhabdiasidae

Vasyl V. Tkach, Yuriy Kuzmin, Scott D. Snyder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Rhabdiasidae Railliet, 1915 is a globally distributed group of up to 100 known species of nematodes parasitic in amphibians and reptiles. This work presents the results of a molecular phylogenetic analysis of 36 species of Rhabdiasidae from reptiles and amphibians from six continents. New DNA sequences encompassing partial 18S rDNA, ITS1, 5.8S rDNA, ITS2 and partial 28S rDNA regions of nuclear ribosomal DNA were obtained from 27 species and pre-existing sequences for nine species were incorporated. The broad taxonomic, host and geographical coverage of the specimens allowed us to address long-standing questions in rhabdiasid systematics, evolution, geographic distribution, and patterns of host association. Our analysis demonstrated that rhabdiasids parasitic in snakes are an independent genus sister to the rest of the Rhabdiasidae, a status supported by life cycle data. Based on the combined evidence of molecular phylogeny, morphology and life cycle characteristics, a new genus Serpentirhabdias gen. nov. with the type species Serpentirhabdias elaphe (Sharpilo, 1976) comb. nov. is established. The phylogeny supports the monophyly of Entomelas Travassos, 1930, Pneumonema Johnston, 1916 and the largest genus of the family, Rhabdias Stiles and Hassall, 1905. DNA sequence comparisons demonstrate the presence of more than one species in the previously monotypic Pneumonema from Australian scincid lizards. The distribution of some morphological characters in the genus Rhabdias shows little consistency within the phylogenetic tree topology, in particular the apical structures widely used in rhabdiasid systematics. Our data suggest that some of the characters, while valuable for species differentiation, are not appropriate for differentiation among higher taxa and are of limited phylogenetic utility. Rhabdias is the only genus with a cosmopolitan distribution, but some of the lineages within Rhabdias are distributed on a single continent or a group of adjacent zoogeographical regions. Serpentirhabdias, Entomelas and Pneumonema show rather strict specificity to their host groups. The evolution of the Rhabdiasidae clearly included multiple host switching events among different orders and families of amphibians as well as switching between amphibians and squamatan reptiles. Only a few smaller lineages of Rhabdias demonstrate relatively strict associations with a certain group of hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-284
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal for Parasitology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Host associations
  • Life cycles
  • Molecular phylogeny
  • Rhabdiasidae
  • Serpentirhabdias gen. nov.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Infectious Diseases


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