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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2004 Jan;30(1):64-73.

The Pleistocene glaciations and the evolutionary history of the polytypic snail species Arianta arbustorum (Gastropoda, Pulmonata, Helicidae).

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  • 1Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum, P.O. Box 9517, NL 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.


The evolutionary history of the snail Arianta arbustorum is controversial. This diverse, polytypic species has two distinct forms: one, with a globular shell and closed umbilicus, is found from lowland to high altitudes; the other, with a depressed shell and open umbilicus, is found at a few scattered, high altitude localities. What is the origin of these two forms? Some believe that the depressed shell is a recent, local, ecotypic adaptation to alpine environments. Others believe that this form is a relic of an ancestral condition that may have survived the Pleistocene glaciations on nunatak-like montane refugia, while the globular shell is a derived condition and its presence at high altitudes follows post-Pleistocene recolonisation. We analysed a portion of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase I for 100 snails of the species A. arbustorum, three additional Arianta species, and nine outgroup taxa from five genera, in order to understand the phylogeographic history of the species. Despite some confounding artefacts that are likely due to introgression among the morphological forms, the resulting phylogeny shows that the depressed shell is plesiomorphic, while the globular shell is derived. Moreover, their disparate histories suggest that the depressed shell variety survived the glaciations in pockets of alpine refugia, while the globular shell variety recolonised the alpine environment post-glacially.

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