Indication for selfing in geographically separated populations and evidence for Pleistocene survival within the Alps: The case of Cylindrus obtusus (Pulmonata: Helicidae)

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Background: Cylindrus obtusus is one of the most prominent endemic snail species of the Eastern Alps. It is restricted to alpine meadows and calcareous rocky habitats above 1500 m. Peculiar intraspecific differences have been observed in its genital tract in the eastern populations the two mucus glands associated with the love dart sac are highly variable, while almost no variation was observed in the western populations. This raises the question whether the mode and success of reproduction of the respective populations are different. To find out whether these anatomical differences reflect genetic differentiation, which might be an indication for distinct glacial refugia, we investigated a 650 bp fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 gene (COI) (280 individuals) and 9 microsatellite loci from samples (487 individuals from 29 populations) covering the whole distribution range of the species. Results: The COI sequences show a geographic differentiation between eastern, central and western populations. The westernmost localities, which were covered under ice sheets during glacial periods, are characterized by extreme low variability. Overall genetic distances among all individuals are small (max. 1.7% p-distance). The microsatellite analysis reveals a high differentiation between populations, implying restriction of gene flow. The highest genetic variability was found in the central populations. Remarkably, nearly all individuals from the eastern populations, which are more variable in their genital morphology, are homozygous in all microsatellite loci, although different alleles were found within populations. Conclusions: The most peculiar outcome of the study is the strong evidence for selfing in C. obtusus as indicated by the microsatellite data in the easternmost populations. This finding is supported by the deformation of the mucus glands in the same populations. Since mucus glands play an important role in sexual reproduction, it seems plausible that in selfing organisms these structures are reduced. The phylogeographic structure revealed by COI sequences implies that the species has survived the ice ages within the Calcareous Alps. The small genetic distances among all individuals (max. 1.7%) suggest that C. obtusus has experienced severe bottlenecks in the past.




Kruckenhauser, L., Haring, E., Tautscher, B., Cadahía, L., Zopp, L., Duda, M., … Sattmann, H. (2017). Indication for selfing in geographically separated populations and evidence for Pleistocene survival within the Alps: The case of Cylindrus obtusus (Pulmonata: Helicidae). BMC Evolutionary Biology, 17(1).

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