Distribution pattern, reproductive traits, and molecular analysis of two coexisting vermetid gastropods of the genusPetaloconchus: a Caribbean endemic and a potential invasive species

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Vermetid gastropods are characterized by complex taxonomy and unusual ecology. A survey of the fouling community in the intake channel at the Planta Centro Power Plan in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, found massive colonies of vermetid gastropods of the genus Petaloconchus. We arbitrarily named two prevalent varieties as black and brown-orange morphs, distinguishing based on the color of their soft bodies. Spatial distribution was different for the morphs. The black morph was present along the jetty, with higher average densities in the shallower intertidal area (410 vs. 143 ind m-2), while the brown-orange morph was only present at the initial part of the channel (μ = 83 ind m-2). Both produced small eggs (142 vs. 180 μm diameter on average), with the orange-brown eggs being slightly larger, but the morphs differed in other reproductive aspects. The brown-orange morph produced significantly fewer capsules (up to nine simultaneously per female) with fewer embryos (average of 27 viable embryos/capsule) that hatched at a larger size (577 μm on average), allocating about 17.64% of the initial egg production to nurse eggs. In contrast, the black morph produced up to 14 capsules simultaneously, hatched an average of 178 veligers of 212 μm, and produced no nurse eggs. The intra-capsular development reached a more advanced stage in the brown-orange morph than in the black one. Several cytochrome subunit I (COI) and 16S rRNA (16S) haplotypes were found for the black morph, when compared to only one haplotype for both genes present for the brown-orange morph. Preliminary phylogenetic analyses separated the morphs into different clades, supported by robust bootstrap values and posterior probabilities (>98). Our results indicate that the morphs are two different species: the black morph was identified as Petaloconchus cf. varians and the brown-orange morph as a non-described species, Petaloconchus sp. (orange). The first is endemic to the Caribbean, while the second is potentially an introduced species.

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