Extinct even before scientific recognition: a remarkable radiation of helicinid snails (Helicinidae) on the Gambier Islands, French Polynesia
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- Richling, I. & Bouchet, P. Biodivers Conserv (2013) 22: 2433. doi:10.1007/s10531-013-0496-2
Recent literature abounds with reports of the decline and extinction of the endemic species of Achatinellidae and Partulidae in the Hawaiian and Society Islands, respectively, resulting from the introduction of the predatory snail Euglandina rosea. Here, we describe a previously unrecognised radiation of helicinid land snails from the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia, with up to seven species co-occurring in a single locality and up to eight species on a single island. This radiation had already become extinct (nine of ten species) several decades before the expansion of E. rosea in the Pacific, and even before the species were collected for scientific study. The Gambier Islands case study shows that massive extinctions of endemic land snails had already taken place in the nineteenth century, but have remained largely unrecognised and undocumented. Nine of the ten species are new to science and are described here almost entirely based on empty shells collected from the shell bank of the soil after the extinction had already taken place. This helicinid radiation alone increases the number of documented global mollusc extinctions by almost 2 %. Most of the species are minute and, at 1.5 mm, rank among the smallest, if not the smallest, species in the family. Several have apertural barriers and one has opercular apophyses—character states not previously documented in Pacific helicinids. Whereas the only surviving Gambier species belongs anatomically to the genus Sturanya, representative helicinid species from the Austral, Society and Cook Islands are not congeneric with it, and the generic name Nesiocina is here established for the latter taxa. It is hypothesised that the extinct Gambier species were also Nesiocina.