Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 22, Issue 11, pp 2433–2468 | Cite as

Extinct even before scientific recognition: a remarkable radiation of helicinid snails (Helicinidae) on the Gambier Islands, French Polynesia

  • Ira RichlingEmail author
  • Philippe Bouchet
Original Paper


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.


Extinction French Polynesia Mangareva Land snails New species Systematics 



The second author is most grateful to Bruno Schmidt of Rikitea, Mangareva, for his extensive help during the 1997 field work, and sharing his knowledge on the recent history of his native island. In the lab, Ahmed Abdou picked the snails from the residues as part of his master’s research project, and did the initial segregation of helicinid material to morphospecies. We also thank the curators and collection managers at BPBM (Robert Cowie, Regina Kawamoto, Carl Christensen), Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid (Rafael Araujo) and Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Bordeaux (Laurent Charles) for access to material under their care and Richard C. Preece for providing specimens of Nesiocina hendersoni for comparison. He and an anonymous reviewer provided helpful comments on the manuscript. Vollrath Wiese, Haus der Natur—Cismar, Germany, is acknowledged for sharing his excellent photographic equipment. This paper was supported by the “Sixième Extinction” Grant from Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) to Philippe Bouchet (Project “Losers”).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde StuttgartStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, UMR 7138ParisFrance

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