Radiation of crenobiontic gastropods on an ancient continental island: the Hemistomia-clade in New Caledonia (Gastropoda: Hydrobiidae)

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A vast radiation of hydrobiid spring snails endemic to New Caledonia, a continental island in the Southwest Pacific known for its unique flora and fauna, is described. This radiation comprises a total of 54 named species of which 50 are new. The majority of the species belong to the most basal genus, Hemistomia, which happens to be the first one described from New Caledonia. The remaining species are attributed to four genera, Kanakyella, Pidaconomus, Caledoconcha, and Leiorhagium, which are all introduced in this paper.

The radiation as a whole is characterized by the formation of the digestive gland, the stomach with an additional, ciliated proximal chamber, and the subdivision of the pallial oviduct. Whether or not a denticle situated behind the outer lip is a synapomorphy of the whole group cannot be stated with certainty. The genera are distinguished mainly by features of the genital system. For the cladistic analysis, which resulted in 419 equally parsimonious trees, only five characters could be used, and even those were not free of homoplasy. The genera Hemistomia and Pidaconomus are paraphyletic according to this analysis. In contrast to the widely accepted principles of phylogenetic systematics we retain these paraphyletic genera, because otherwise the diversification, i.e. the evolution, which has taken place within the clade could not be expressed in the classification.

The majority of the species occur in very restricted areas. Twenty-six (48%) species were found in a single locality and only six species (11%) in ten or more places. The hydrobiid diversity of west coast drainages is much higher than that of river systems draining to the east. This is, at least partly, explained by the differing precipitation regimes and geological conditions of the regions considered. The west coast receives much less rainfall so that in continuous periods of drought the area of a species would be fragmented by drying up of springs and consequently gene flow between the remaining populations reduced, enhancing speciation. In addition, the west is geologically more heterogenous. Unfavourable, insular ultramafic mountains represent barriers for the dispersal along the west coast.

Many of the taxa are highly threatened to become extinct in the closer future as a consequence of human activities, such as deforestation, agriculture, surface mining, or uncontrolled fires. The conservation of the unique New Caledonian radiation of crenobiontic gastropods requires a transformation of land management practices on privately-owned sites, and a more global reappraisal of the impact of fire and deforestation on water resources.

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