Document Type


Publication Date

July 2009


Molluscs constitute the second largest phylum in terms of the number of described species and possess a wide array of characteristics and adaptations for living in marine, terrestrial, and freshwater habitats. They are morphologically diverse and appear in the fossil record as far back as the early Cambrian (-560 mybp). Despite their high diversity and long evolutionary history, molluscs are often underused as models for the study of general aspects of evolutionary biology. Freshwater snails in the family Ampullariidae have a global tropical and subtropical distribution and high diversity with more than 150 species in nine currently recognized genera, making them an ideal group to address questions of historical biogeography and some of the underlying mechanisms of speciation. They exhibit a wide range of morphological, behavioral, and physiological adaptations that have probably played a role in the processes of diversification. Here we review some of the salient aspects of ampullariid evolution and present some early results from ongoing research in order to illustrate the excellent opportunity that this group provides as a system for addressing numerous questions in evolutionary biology, particularly with regard to the generation of biodiversity and its distribution around the globe. Specifically, we suggest that ampullariids have great potential to inform (1) biogeography, both on a global scale and a smaller intra-continental scale, (2) speciation and the generation of biodiversity, through analysis of trophic relations and habitat partitioning, and addressing issues such as Rapoport's Rule and the latitudinal biodiversity gradient, and (3) the evolution of physiological and behavioral adaptations. Also, a number of species in the family have become highly successful invasives, providing unintentional experiments that may offer insights into rapid evolutionary changes that often accompany introductions, as well as illuminating invasion biology in general.