Genetic divergence, population structure and historical demography of rare springsnails (Pyrgulopsis) in the lower Colorado River basin


Carla R. Hurt. Fax: 1 480 965 2519; E-mail:


Springsnails of the genus Pyrgulopsis are the most diverse group of freshwater gastropods in North America and current estimates show that Pyrgulopsis contains ~120 different species, many of which are at risk of extinction. Some factors contributing to their exceptional diversity include poor dispersal ability and extreme habitat specificity based on water availability, chemistry and depth. Most taxa exhibit high degrees of endemism, with many species occurring only in a single spring or seep, making springsnails ideal for studies of speciation and population structure. Here I present data from a survey of genetic variation at the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase I from 37 populations and over 1000 individuals belonging to 16 species of Pyrgulopsis distributed throughout the lower Colorado River basin. High levels of interspecific sequence divergence indicate that Pyrgulopsis may have colonized this region multiple times beginning in the late Miocene (~6 Ma); earlier than previous estimates based on fossil evidence. Estimates of nucleotide diversity differ greatly among species and may reflect differences in demographic processes. These results are used to identify factors contributing to radiation of species in this region. The implications of this evolutionary history and genetic variation are discussed in relation to future management and conservation.