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Parallel Patterns of Host-Specific Morphology and Genetic Admixture in Sister Lineages of a Commensal Barnacle

Symbiotic relationships are often species specific, allowing symbionts to adapt to their host environments. Host generalists, on the other hand, have to cope with diverse environments. One coping strategy is phenotypic plasticity, defined by the presence of host-specific phenotypes in the absence of genetic differentiation. Recent work indicates that such host-specific phenotypic plasticity is present in the West Pacific lineage of the commensal barnacle Chelonibia testudinaria (Linnaeus, 1758). We investigated genetic and morphological host-specific structure in the genetically distinct Atlantic sister lineage of C. testudinaria. We collected adult C. testudinaria from loggerhead sea turtles, horseshoe crabs, and blue crabs along the eastern U.S. coast between Delaware and Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico off Mississippi. We find that shell morphology, especially shell thickness, is host specific and comparable in similar host species between the Atlantic and West Pacific lineages. We did not detect significant genetic differentiation related to host species when analyzing data from 11 nuclear microsatellite loci and mitochondrial sequence data, which is comparable to findings for the Pacific lineage. The most parsimonious explanation for these parallel patterns between distinct lineages of C. testudinaria is that C. testudinaria maintained phenotypic plasticity since the lineages diverged 4–5 mya.