Ecophenotypic plasticity leads to extraordinary gastropod shells found on the Roof of the World




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The often extraordinary shell forms and shapes of gastropods found in palaeolakes, such as the highly diverse Gyraulus fauna of the famous Steinheim Basin, have been puzzling evolutionary biologists for centuries, and there is an ongoing debate whether these aberrant shell forms are indicative of true species (or subspecies) or ecophenotypic morphs. Interestingly, one of the Steinheim Gyraulus morphs a corkscrew-like open-coiled shell has a recent analogue in the Lake Bangong drainage system on the western Tibetan Plateau. Therefore, a combination of morphological, molecular, palaeolimnological, and ecological analyses was used in this study to assess whether the extraordinary shell shape in Gyraulus sp. from this drainage system represents a (young) ecophenotypic phenomenon or if it has been genetically fixed over an extended period of time. Our morphological, ecological, and palaeolimnological data suggest that the corkscrew-like specimens remain restricted to a small pond near Lake Bangong with an elevated pH value and that the colonization may have occurred recently. The phylogenetic reconstruction based on two gene fragments shows that these nonplanispiral specimens cluster within the previous described Tibetan Plateau Gyraulus clade N2. A network analysis indicates that some haplotypes are even shared by planispiral and nonplanispiral specimens. Given the ephemerality of the phenomenon, the compact network patterns inferred, the likely young phylogenetic age of the aberrant Gyraulus shells studied, and the ecological peculiarities of the study site, we suggest that the evolution of the aberrant shell forms on the Tibetan Plateau could likely be considered as a rapid ecophenotypic response, possibly induced by ecological stress. This finding may thus have implications for the ongoing debate about the processes that have caused the extraordinary shell diversity in palaeolakes such as the Steinheim Basin.




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undefined (2015)


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Ecology and Evolution 5(14):2966-2979