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DNA Metabarcoding reveals spatial and temporal variation of fish eye fluke communities in lake ecosystems.

Eye flukes (Diplostomidae) are diverse and abundant trematode parasites that form multi-species communities in fish with negative effects on host fitness and survival. However, the environmental factors and host-related characteristics that determine species diversity, composition, and coexistence in such communities remain poorly understood. Here, we developed a cost-effective cox1 region-specific DNA metabarcoding approach to characterize parasitic diplostomid communities in two common fish species (Eurasian perch and common roach) collected from seven temperate lakes in Estonia. We found considerable inter- and intra-lake, as well as inter-host species, variation in diplostomid communities. Sympatric host species characterization revealed that parasite communities were typically more diverse in roach than perch. Additionally, we detected five positive and two negative diplostomid species associations in roach, whereas only a single negative association was observed in perch. These results indicate that diplostomid communities in temperate lakes are complex and dynamic systems exhibiting both spatial and temporal heterogeneity. They are influenced by various environmental factors and by host-parasite and inter-parasite interactions. We expect that the described methodology facilitates ecological and biodiversity research of diplostomid parasites. It is also adaptable to other parasite groups where it could serve to improve current understanding of diversity, distribution, and interspecies interactions of other understudied taxa.

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