Taxonomic and conservation status of a newly discovered giant landsnail from Mount Augustus, New Zealand
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The Rhytidae (Mollusca; Gastropoda; Pulmonata) are a group of large carnivorous land snails distributed in the southern hemisphere, with a particularly rich fauna in New Zealand. The endemic genus Powelliphanta consists of at least 10 species and many more recognised subspecies, most of which are restricted to the western margin of South Island, New Zealand. Powelliphanta taxa tend to have restricted ecological and spatial ranges among the mountains of this region, with some species being limited to lowland forest and others to habitats at or above the treeline. Among recent discoveries is a population of snails occupying habitat on and around a peak called Mt Augustus, which is situated at the edge of a large and economically important coalfield. Since recognition of the potential biological significance of the Mt Augustus snails in 2004, almost all of their habitat has been destroyed by opencast mining revealing a direct conflict between economic and biodiversity prioritisation. Our analysis of mtDNA sequence data indicate Powelliphanta “Augustus” is a distinctive evolutionary lineage, more closely related to a nearby lowland species Powelliphanta lignaria than the spatial and ecological neighbour Powelliphanta patrickensis. Powelliphanta “Augustus” appears to be a specialised local endemic species. Despite a growing international awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation, the demand for foreign earnings continues to take priority over the protection of our biota.