The history of an invasion: phases of the explosive spread of the physid snail Physella acuta through Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia
Physella acuta (Draparnaud, 1805) is an aquatic pulmonate snail notorious for its high invasive potential. Of New World origin, this species now occurs on all continents. The aim of this study was to trace P. acuta dispersal through the Western Palearctic starting from its first arrival in the Old World and to determine possible drivers of this process. A range of literary sources as well as some rich European malacological collections have been consulted to ascertain the dates of the first finding of P. acuta in the countries of Europe, Transcaucasia, and Central Asia and to map the most significant localities. The shell characteristics of this species are so distinctive that they almost preclude misidentification and confusion with any native species. This allows one to rely on historical records, including older sources (18th to the first half of the 19th centuries). The earliest reliable records of P. acuta in the Old World can be dated to 1742, which implies an earlier date for the first arrival of the species in Europe, possibly in the 17th century. Its introduction may be explained either by accidental dispersal mediated by humans (for example, during transport of exotic plants to European botanical gardens) or by natural causes (long-distance dispersal from the Americas to Europe). Three successive phases leading to the current invasive range of P. acuta in the Western Palearctic can be identified. The species’ current Old World range can be viewed as a result of the interaction of natural and anthropogenic factors. The human-mediated drivers of dispersal include canal building, the aquarium trade and, more recently, alteration of natural freshwater habitats.