Sika deer presence affects the host-parasite interface of a Japanese land leech.Ecol Evol. 2020 Jun; 10(12):6030-6038.EE
Since the 1990s, increasing populations of a blood feeding land leech (Haemadipsa japonica) have become a serious issue in several Japanese prefectures, and it may be caused by the increases in sika deer (Cervus nippon) populations seen over the last quarter of the century. Therefore, this study aimed to reveal the host animal species of H. japonica using iDNA (vertebrate DNA isolated from invertebrates) and to test the hypothesis that the increasingly widespread distribution of sika deer results in increased H. japonica populations through changes to the host-parasite interface. We amplified mitochondrial DNA 16S ribosome RNA fragments from iDNA isolated from the blood clots of H. japonica collected across Japan. We identified 17 host animal species, including four orders of Mammalia (Carnivora, Artiodactyla, Rodentia, and Lagomorpha) and two orders of Amphibia (Caudata and Anura). The sika deer was the dominant host species of H. japonica. Additionally, the host animal species composition of H. japonica differed according to the presence or absence of sika deer. In the sites where sika deer were not found, Anura (frog) species were the most commonly identified hosts of H. japonica. These results suggest that the increases in H. japonica populations might have occurred via a change in host preference to sika deer. This change might be driven by the increases in sika deer populations and subsequent increase in the frequency that H. japonica uses the sika deer as easy prey, as well as by sika deer providing more reproductive energy per blood meal than blood meal from frog species. The present study suggests that a more widespread distribution of sika deer resulted in an increase in H. japonica through a change in the host-parasite interface. Therefore, management that focuses on decreasing sika deer populations would likely be an effective method for the reduction of H. japonica populations.