Fleas (Siphonaptera) are Cretaceous, and Evolved with Theria

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Qiyun ZhuKatharina Dittmar


Fleas (order Siphonaptera) are highly-specialized, diverse blood-feeding ectoparasites of mammals and birds with an enigmatic evolutionary history and obscure origin. We here present a molecular phylogenetic study based on a comprehensive taxon sampling of 259 flea taxa, representing 16 of the 18 extant families of this order. A Bayesian phylogenetic tree with strong nodal support was recovered, consisting of seven sequentially derived lineages with Macropsyllidae at the base and Stephanocircidae as the second basal group. Divergence times of flea lineages were estimated based on fossil records and host specific associations to bats (Chiroptera), showing that the common ancestor of extant Siphonaptera split from its closest mecopteran sister group in the Early Cretaceous and basal lineages diversified during the Late Cretaceous. However, most of the intraordinal divergence into families took place after the K-Pg boundary. Ancestral states of host association and biogeographical distribution were reconstructed, suggesting with high likelihood that fleas originated in the southern continents (Gondwana) and migrated from South America to their extant distributions in a relatively short time frame. Theria (placental mammals and mar...Continue Reading

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