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Phylogenetic relationships of assimineid gastropods of the Death Valley–lower Colorado River region: relicts of a late Neogene marine incursion?

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Abstract Aim 

A small fauna of amphibious snails (genus Assiminea Fleming, 1828) living in association with highly mineralized springs in the Death Valley–lower Colorado River region (DVLCR) is thought to be a relict of the Bouse Embayment, a putative late Miocene–early Pliocene transgression of the ancestral Gulf of California along the lower Colorado River valley. We analysed the phylogenetic relationships of this fauna using mtDNA sequence data (1171 bp) to determine whether, as would be consistent with this hypothesis, it forms a substantially divergent unit sister to marine coastal congeners. Location 

South-western Great Basin and lower Colorado River region, USA. Methods 

Two genes [mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and the mitochondrial 16S ribosomal RNA gene] were sequenced for 10 populations of DVLCR assimineas (Assiminea infima Berry, 1947; Assiminea sp.). We also sequenced an undescribed population from a spring in the Colorado River delta; western North American Pacific Coastal Assiminea californica (Tryon, 1865); the three other congeners that live on the continent; and three Old World assimineids (outgroups). Phylogenies based on the combined data set were obtained using Bayesian methods, and divergence times were estimated using a COI molecular clock for related gastropods. Results 

Composite haplotypes of the DVLCR assimineas, together with that observed in the Colorado River delta population, formed a weakly supported clade that was sister to a clade composed of populations of North American Pacific and Atlantic coastal species. The genetic distance between members of these two clades was 3.46 ± 0.47% for COI and 1.69 ± 0.38% for 16S. The former clade was composed of five subunits that differed from each other by 1.29–2.84% (COI) and 0.52–1.98% (16S) sequence divergence. Main conclusions 

Application of the COI clock suggests that progenitors of the DVLCR fauna diverged from coastal ancestors 2.13–1.89 Ma (late Pliocene), several million years after the Bouse Embayment would have been terminated by the establishment of the lower (freshwater) Colorado River. This finding, together with shallow genetic structuring of several DVLCR lineages that are widely distributed across the topographically complex regional landscape, suggests that the Assiminea fauna of this inland area was more likely to have been founded by coastal colonists transported on water birds than through a direct connection with the sea.
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Keywords: Amphibious snails; Assimineidae; Bouse Embayment hypothesis; Colorado River; Death Valley; Gastropoda; North America; historical biogeography; marine incursion; mtDNA

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Denver, Denver, CO, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2008

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