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The European vectors of Bluetongue virus: are there species complexes, single species or races in Culicoides obsoletus and C. pulicaris detectable by sequencing ITS-1, ITS-2 and 18S-rDNA?

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When studying the vectorship of Culicoides species during the outbreak of Bluetongue disease (BTD) in Central Europe, the question arose whether the most common species and additionally proven vectors of BTV (C. obsoletus and C. pulicaris) are definitive species or do they belong to so-called complexes, since the determination based on morphological criteria is not very significant and knowledge on the life cycles is poor or even absent. Therefore, the present molecular biological study on their ITS-1, ITS-2 and 18SrDNA characteristics was initiated to investigate specimens, which had been determined by their wing morphology during an entomological monitoring in the years 2007 and 2008 at 91 farms in Germany (Mehlhorn et al. 2009). This study revealed novel types respectively different forms, which appeared very similar to Culicoides obsoletus, but showed slightly varying wing patterns. The molecular biological data were compared to those in data banks and combined to provisional dendrograms. The ITS-1 and ITS-2 analysis showed that the specimens determined in the monitoring as C. obsoletus inclusive those with different wing pattern correlate significantly with the data of C. obsoletus in the data banks and surrounded the data bank specifications of C. montanus and C. scoticus so closely that the latter might be only hardly separate species. A similar interpretation can also be drawn when looking at the 18S rDNA dendrogram. Thus, C. scoticus and C. montanus might be races of C. obsoletus rather than separate species. With respect to the ITS-1 and ITS-2 characteristics of C. pulicaris females, which morphologically and by size can be significantly differentiated from C. obsoletus, it was seen that this species is significantly situated on another rame of the dendrograms and in very close relationship to C. punctatus and C. lupicaris, so that the latter might also be only races of C. pulicaris. One of the two other most common species found in Northrhine–Westfalia—C. festivipennis—belongs to the rame of the dendrogram, where C. pulicaris is situated close to C. circumscriptus, while the other common species (C. nubeculosus) has its place close to C. puncticollis and C. variipennis on the rame, where C. obsoletus is found. Thus, this paper again clearly points out that the question “what is a definite species” is far from being solved, if the life cycle is not defined and morphology misleading. However, it also became clear that C. obsoletus and C. pulicaris are Europe-wide occurring species and that several other clearly described separate species are probably only races.

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We gratefully recognise the partial funding of King Saud University, Riyadh, Saud Arabia.

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Correspondence to Heinz Mehlhorn.

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Kiehl, E., Walldorf, V., Klimpel, S. et al. The European vectors of Bluetongue virus: are there species complexes, single species or races in Culicoides obsoletus and C. pulicaris detectable by sequencing ITS-1, ITS-2 and 18S-rDNA?. Parasitol Res 105, 331–336 (2009).

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