Six Sarcocystis species from reindeer (S. grueneri, S. rangi, S. tarandivulpes, S. hardangeri, S. rangiferi and S. tarandi) have previously been genetically characterised. The aim of this study was to identify possible definitive hosts for S. hardangeri, S. rangiferi and S. tarandi by including the six species in phylogenetic analyses of the Sarcocystidae, and also to investigate the phylogenetic relationships between the species from reindeer and those from other hosts. The study also aimed at revealing whether the inclusion of six Sarcocystis species from the same intermediate host would have any effect on previously inferred phylogenetic relationships within the Sarcocystidae. The complete small subunit (ssu) rRNA gene sequences of all six Sarcocystis species from reindeer were used in the phylogenetic analyses along with ssu rRNA gene sequences of 85 other members of the Coccidea. Trees were constructed using Bayesian analysis and maximum likelihood estimations. All six Sarcocystis species from reindeer were placed together with other Sarcocystis species using an even-toed ungulate as their intermediate host. The three canine transmitted species, S. grueneri, S. rangi, S. tarandivulpes, formed a sister group to other Sarcocystis species with a canine definitive host. The position of S. hardangeri on the tree suggested that it uses another type of definitive host than the other Sarcocystis species in this clade. Considering the geographical distribution and infection intensity of S. hardangeri, corvid birds are perhaps its most likely definitive hosts. The phylogenetic position, geographical distribution, prevalence and morphological similarity to feline transmitted Sarcocystis species in closely related Cervidae suggest that the most likely definitive hosts of S. rangiferi and S. tarandi are felines, and in Norway notably the lynx. The overall phylogeny of the Sarcocystidae did not change by the inclusion of the six Sarcocystis species from reindeer. This study suggests that phylogentic analysis can be a useful tool in the search for possible definitive hosts for those Sarcocystis species for which they are unknown and difficult to find solely by other methods.
- small subunit rRNA gene
- phylogenetic analysis