University of Oulu

Harimalala, M., Telfer, S., Delatte, H. et al. Genetic structure and gene flow of the flea Xenopsylla cheopis in Madagascar and Mayotte. Parasites Vectors 10, 347 (2017).

Genetic structure and gene flow of the flea Xenopsylla cheopis in Madagascar and Mayotte

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Author: Harimalala, Mireille1; Telfer, Sandra2; Delatte, Hélène3;
Organizations: 1Medical Entomology Unit, Institut Pasteur of Madagascar, Ambatofotsikely, PO box 1274, 101, Antananarivo, Madagascar
2School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 2TZ, UK
3UMR PVBMT, CIRAD, 7 Chemin de l’IRAT, Saint Pierre, La Réunion, France
4Department of Ecology and Genetics, University of Oulu, FI-90014, Oulu, Finland
5Plague Unit, Institut Pasteur of Madagascar, Ambatofotsikely, PO box 1274, 101, Antananarivo, Madagascar
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2017
Publish Date: 2021-03-24


Background: The flea Xenopsylla cheopis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) is a vector of plague. Despite this insect’s medical importance, especially in Madagascar where plague is endemic, little is known about the organization of its natural populations. We undertook population genetic analyses (i) to determine the spatial genetic structure of X. cheopis in Madagascar and (ii) to determine the potential risk of plague introduction in the neighboring island of Mayotte.

Results: We genotyped 205 fleas from 12 sites using nine microsatellite markers. Madagascan populations of X. cheopis differed, with the mean number of alleles per locus per population ranging from 1.78 to 4.44 and with moderate to high levels of genetic differentiation between populations. Three distinct genetic clusters were identified, with different geographical distributions but with some apparent gene flow between both islands and within Malagasy regions. The approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) used to test the predominant direction of flea dispersal implied a recent population introduction from Mayotte to Madagascar, which was estimated to have occurred between 1993 and 2012. The impact of this flea introduction in terms of plague transmission in Madagascar is unclear, but the low level of flea exchange between the two islands seems to keep Mayotte free of plague for now.

Conclusion: This study highlights the occurrence of genetic structure among populations of the flea vector of plague, X. cheopis, in Madagascar and suggests that a flea population from Mayotte has been introduced to Madagascar recently. As plague has not been reported in Mayotte, this introduction is unlikely to present a major concern for plague transmission. Nonetheless, evidence of connectivity among flea populations in the two islands indicates a possibility for dispersal by fleas in the opposite direction and thus a risk of plague introduction to Mayotte.

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Series: Parasites & vectors
ISSN: 1756-3305
ISSN-E: 1756-3305
ISSN-L: 1756-3305
Volume: 10
Article number: 347
DOI: 10.1186/s13071-017-2290-6
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: Epidemiological surveys and laboratory works were funded by the Agence Régional de la Santé - Océan Indien (ARS-OI) (n°2/DSP/Etudes et Statistiques/2013) and the Institut Pasteur of Madagascar. Microsatellite primer development was supported by the Wellcome Trust (a part of Research Career Development Fellowship to S. Telfer #081705 and Senior Fellowship to S. Telfer #095171).
Copyright information: © The Author(s). 2017. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.