, Volume 739, Issue 1, pp 7–24 | Cite as

Evolution in isolation: the Gyraulus species flock from Miocene Lake Steinheim revisited

  • Michael W. RasserEmail author


The Miocene Steinheim Basin in SW Germany is an ancient (long-lived) palaeo-lake that has existed over some hundreds of thousands of years. It is an iconic fossil site, because the historically oldest phylogenetic tree of extinct organisms was based on specimens described from this locality. Today the basin contains 30–40 m thickness of lake sediments with planorbid snails of the genus Gyraulus occurring in rock-forming quantities. The shells are morphologically highly disparate with forms ranging from the tiny, planispiral founder species Gyraulus kleini, to fragile corkscrew-like uncoiled forms and to large trochiform morphs with thick shells. In total, this presumably monophyletic species flock contains 17 species distributed in time and space, all of which are endemic, except for the founder species. Up to nine of them occur in a single sedimentary level and are inferred to have lived together. Such an extreme rate of endemism makes fossil Lake Steinheim special among extant and fossil lakes. This review article summarises and discusses the species concept(s), indications for endemism, speciation processes, the phylogenetic concept(s) and factors controlling evolution. It also provides directions for future research.


Intralacustrine speciation Gyraulus Planorbidae Endemic evolution Ancient lake 



The author wishes to thank J. Rust (Bonn) and R. Schoch (Stuttgart) for critical discussions about the Steinheim snails and K. Wolf-Schwenninger (Stuttgart) for SEM-photography. The comments of two anonymous reviewers have remarkable increased the quality of this paper and the author wishes to thank them for their efforts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde StuttgartStuttgartGermany

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