The specific status of the head and body lice of humans has been debated for more than 200 yr. To clarify the specific status of head and body lice, we sequenced 524 base pairs (bp) of the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene of 28 head and 28 body lice from nine countries. Ten haplotypes that differed by 1-5 bp at 11 nucleotide positions were identified. A phylogeny of these sequences indicates that these head and body lice are not from reciprocally monophyletic lineages. Indeed, head and body lice share three of the 10 haplotypes we found. F(ST) values and exact tests of haplotype frequencies showed significant differences between head and body lice. However, the same tests also showed significant differences among lice from different countries. Indeed, more of the variation in haplotype frequencies was explained by differences among lice from different countries than by differences between head and body lice. Our results indicate the following: (1) head and body lice do not represent reciprocally monophyletic lineages and are conspecific; (2) gene flow among populations of lice from different countries is limited; and (3) frequencies of COI haplotypes can be used to study maternal gene flow among populations of head and body lice and thus transmission of lice among their human hosts.
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