, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 323-340

Nonrandom variation of morphological traits across environmental gradients in a land snail

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Abstract

Morphological variation is often attributed to differential adaptations to diverse habitats, but adaptations to a similar environment do not necessarily result in similar phenotypes. Adaptations for water and heat budget are crucial for organisms living in arid habitats, and in snails, variation in shell morphology has been frequently attributed to selection by stressful environmental factors. However, their phenotypic divergence often is not accompanied by a relevant niche differentiation and consistent relationships with environmental correlates are lacking. In the pulmonate genus Albinaria, there is great size and shape variation between and within species, and there are two major shell sculpture morphotypes, ribbed and smooth. We used 62 populations of 28 Albinaria species, taking into account their phylogeny, to examine the variation of shell traits (sculpture, size, shape), their effect on water and heat budget, and their association with geographical and climatic gradients. We found unambiguous size and shape discrimination between the two morphotypes. Ribbed shells are lighter, taller, and slimmer and have a smaller aperture than the smooth ones. Moreover, significant correlations between shell traits and heat/moisture budget and climate/geography were revealed. Ribbed and taller shells retain more water on their shell surface, and on the other hand, smooth shells exhibit lower water permeability. Therefore, two strategies are being used to prevent water loss, active retention or resistance to loss. Consequently, different alternative solutions evolved and were retained as responses to the same stressful factor by the two distinct shell morphotypes. Larger shells occur in southern latitudes, mostly on islands, and at sites where there is a shortage of rainfall. Therefore, the variation of the examined traits is nonrandom with respect to location and to climate and their evolution can be attributed to selection by environmental factors, with water availability being the key driving agent of body-size variation.