Cattle ticks of the subgenus Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) are major agricultural pests worldwide, causing billions of dollars in losses annually. Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) annulatus and R. microplus are the most well-known and widespread species, and a third species, R. australis, was recently reinstated for ‘R. microplus’ from Australia and parts of Southeast Asia. We use mitochondrial genome sequences to address the phylogenetic relationships among the species of the subgenus Boophilus. We sequenced the complete or partial mitochondrial genomes of R. annulatus, R. australis, R. kohlsi, R. geigyi, and of three geographically disparate specimens of R. microplus from Brazil, Cambodia and China. Phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial genomes, as well as cox1 and 16S rRNA sequences, reveals a species complex of R. annulatus, R. australis, and two clades of R. microplus, which we call the R. microplus complex. We show that cattle ticks morphologically identified as R. microplus from Southern China and Northern India (R. microplus clade B) are more closely related to R. annulatus than other specimens of R. microplus s.s. from Asia, South America and Africa (R. microplus clade A). Our analysis suggests that ticks reported as R. microplus from Southern China and Northern India are a cryptic species. This highlights the need for further molecular, morphological and crossbreeding studies of the R. microplus complex, with emphasis on specimens from China and India. We found that cox1 and, to a lesser extent, 16S rRNA were far more successful in resolving the phylogenetic relationships within the R. microplus complex than 12S rRNA or the nuclear marker ITS2. We suggest that future molecular studies of the R. microplus complex should focus on cox1, supplemented by 16S rRNA, and develop nuclear markers alternative to ITS2 to complement the mitochondrial data.
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution / Vol. 76, No. 1, pp.241-253