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      The European medicinal leech Hirudo medicinalis L.: Morphology and occurrence of an endangered species

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      Zoosystematics and Evolution

      Pensoft Publishers

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          Abstract

          Although the European medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis L. 1758) is one of the best-known members of the Hirudinea due to its use in phlebotomy, this species has been confused with the Mediterranean taxon H. verbana Carena 1820. Here we describe the morphology of adult and juvenile H. medicinalis and document its genetic distance to H. verbana, using newly acquired mitochondrial DNA-sequence (cytochrome c oxidase subunit I, CO-I)-data from specimens collected in Germany. Our CO-I analysis shows that H. medicinalis and H. verbana differ by 9.4 %. Hence, the original Hirudo-population diverged ca. 10 million years ago so that today two geographically separated biospecies exist that co-occur in only a few natural habitats. We analyzed the behaviour of adult H. medicinalis, but could not find differences with respect to its sister taxon H. verbana. Finally, we summarize the occurrence of H. medicinalis in Central Europe and conclude that this once widely distributed freshwater species largely disappeared in many countries. We suggest that the loss of natural freshwater ecosystems, with flat, warm banks, and amphibians (frogs, newts and toads) as preferred host organisms for the juveniles, are largely responsible for the decline of H. medicinalis in Northern Europe.

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          Diverse molecular data demonstrate that commercially available medicinal leeches are not Hirudo medicinalis.

          The European medicinal leech is one of vanishingly few animal species with direct application in modern medicine. In addition to the therapeutic potential held by many protease inhibitors purified from leech saliva, and notwithstanding the historical association with quackery, Hirudo medicinalis has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration as a prescription medical device. Accurate annotation of bioactive compounds relies on precise species determination. Interpretations of developmental and neurophysiological characteristics also presuppose uniformity within a model species used in laboratory settings. Here, we show, with mitochondrial sequences and nuclear microsatellites, that there are at least three species of European medicinal leech, and that leeches marketed as H. medicinalis are actually Hirudo verbana. Beyond the obvious need for reconsideration of decades of biomedical research on this widely used model organism, these findings impact regulatory statutes and raise concerns for the conservation status of European medicinal leeches.
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            Poly-paraphyly of Hirudinidae: many lineages of medicinal leeches

            Background Medicinal leeches became infamous for their utility in bloodletting popularized in the 19th century, and have seen a recent resurgence in post-operative treatments for flap and replantation surgeries, and in terms of characterization of salivary anticoagulants. Notorious throughout the world, the quintessential leech family Hirudinidae has been taken for granted to be monophyletic, as has the non-bloodfeeding family Haemopidae. Results This study is the first to evaluate molecular evidence from hirudinid and haemopid leeches in a manner that encompasses the global scope of their taxonomic distributions. We evaluated the presumed monophyly of the Hirudinidae and assessed previous well-accepted classification schemes. The Hirudinidae were found not to be monophyletic, falling instead into two distinct and unrelated clades. Members of the non-bloodfeeding family Haemopidae were scattered throughout the tree and among traditional hirudinid genera. A combination of nuclear 18S rDNA and 28S rDNA with mitochondrial 12S rDNA and cytochrome c oxidase I were analyzed with Parsimony and with Bayesian methods. Conclusion The family Hirudinidae must be refined to include only the clade containing Hirudo medicinalis (European medicinal leech) and related leeches irrespective of bloodfeeding behavior. A second clade containing Macrobdella decora (North American medicinal leech) and its relatives may yet be recognized in Semiscolecidae in order to avoid paraphyly. The African distribution of species from each of the divergent hirudinid clades suggests that a deep divergence took place in the history of the medicinal leeches hundreds of millions of years ago.
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              DNA Barcoding Reveals Cryptic Diversity in Lumbricus terrestris L., 1758 (Clitellata): Resurrection of L. herculeus (Savigny, 1826)

              The widely studied and invasive earthworm, Lumbricus terrestris L., 1758 has been the subject of nomenclatural debate for many years. However these disputes were not based on suspicions of heterogeneity, but rather on the descriptions and nomenclatural acts associated with the species name. Large numbers of DNA barcode sequences of the cytochrome oxidase I obtained for nominal L. terrestris and six congeneric species reveal that there are two distinct lineages within nominal L. terrestris. One of those lineages contains the Swedish population from which the name-bearing specimen of L. terrestris was obtained. The other contains the population from which the syntype series of Enterion herculeum Savigny, 1826 was collected. In both cases modern and old representatives yielded barcode sequences allowing us to clearly establish that these are two distinct species, as different from one another as any other pair of congeners in our data set. The two are morphologically indistinguishable, except by overlapping size-related characters. We have designated a new neotype for L. terrestris. The newly designated neotype and a syntype of L. herculeus yielded DNA adequate for sequencing part of the cytochrome oxidase I gene (COI). The sequence data make possible the objective determination of the identities of earthworms morphologically identical to L. terrestris and L. herculeus, regardless of body size and segment number. Past work on nominal L. terrestris could have been on either or both species, although L. herculeus has yet to be found outside of Europe.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Zoosystematics and Evolution
                ZSE
                Pensoft Publishers
                1860-0743
                1435-1935
                November 18 2014
                November 18 2014
                : 90
                : 2
                : 271-280
                Article
                10.3897/zse.90.8715
                © 2014
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