Aim The New Zealand terrestrial mollusc fauna is among the most speciose in the world, with often remarkably high richness at lowland forest sites. We sought to elucidate general explanations for patterns of richness in terrestrial mollusc communities by analysis of species coexistence and habitat relationships within a New Zealand district fauna.
Location Pukeamaru Ecological District, eastern North Island, New Zealand.
Methods We sampled molluscs using qualitative methods at twenty-three sites and quantitatively by frame sampling of scrubland-forest floor litter at sixteen of these sites and analysed patterns of species richness and turnover in relation to regional species pools and local habitat attributes. We then tested for nonrandom assemblage of taxa along diversity and habitat gradients.
Results Ninety-four indigenous mollusc species were recorded from a district fauna estimated at 102 indigenous species: only two species were endemic. From the presumptive geological history of the district, the low endemism, and Brooks parsimony and indicator species analyses of faunal relationships, the communities were indicated to have resulted by accumulation of colonists from other New Zealand districts since the Miocene. Richness ranged from two or three indigenous species in dune habitats to fifty-nine species in a floristically rich forest. Beta diversity was high and site occupancy per species was low, indicating communities structured by successive replacement of ecological equivalents. Sites differing in vegetation had characteristic species assemblages, indicating a degree of habitat specialization. Canonical correspondence analysis indicated that canopy tree species, canopy height, floristic diversity, altitude, litter mass, and litter pH were important determinants of species assemblage in scrubland and forest. Richness was strongly associated with site floristic diversity and, for litter-dwelling species, the pH of litter substrate. High richness occurred at those sites supporting molluscs in high abundance. Shell-shape distributions were essentially Cainian unimodal, with communities dominated by snail species with subglobose to discoidal shells. Mean and variance of shell size increased with mollusc species richness and floristic diversity at sites, indicating dominance of communities by small-shelled species at early successional or floristically poor sites, and increased richness resulting from addition of larger snails into vacant niches. Shifts in shell form were associated with sympatry in several congeneric taxa.
Main conclusions The underdispersion of shell shape, relative to faunas elsewhere in the world, indicates that community structure in New Zealand land snail faunas has been constrained by limited phylogenetic diversity and/or by convergence upon successful adaptations. The remarkably high richness that characterizes these communities indicates special conditions allow coexistence of numerous species. The relationship between floristic diversity at sites and the richness, diversity, and shell-size distributions of the molluscs suggests assemblages structured around niche partitioning among competing species. While there is an element of congruence between vegetation and mollusc pattern, this study indicates that assembly rules will be defined, and spatial pattern predicted, only through a better understanding of the linkage between regional species pool, organism traits, environment, and local community assemblage.