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Open Access Research article

Reconstructing the evolutionary history of the radiation of the land snail genus Xerocrassa on Crete based on mitochondrial sequences and AFLP markers

Jan Sauer12 and Bernhard Hausdorf1*

Author Affiliations

1 Zoological Museum, University of Hamburg, Martin-Luther-King-Platz 3, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

2 Department of Chemical Ecology, University of Bielefeld, Universitätsstraße 25, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:299  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-299

Published: 4 October 2010



A non-adaptive radiation triggered by sexual selection resulted in ten endemic land snail species of the genus Xerocrassa on Crete. Only five of these species and a more widespread species are monophyletic in a mitochondrial gene tree. The reconstruction of the evolutionary history of such closely related species can be complicated by incomplete lineage sorting, introgression or inadequate taxonomy. To distinguish between the reasons for the nonmonophyly of several species in the mitochondrial gene tree we analysed nuclear AFLP markers.


Whereas six of the eleven morphologically delimited Xerocrassa species from Crete are monophyletic in the mitochondrial gene tree, nine of these species are monophyletic in the tree based on AFLP markers. Only two morphologically delimited species could not be distinguished with the multilocus data and might have diverged very recently or might represent extreme forms of a single species. The nonmonophyly of X. rhithymna with respect to X. kydonia is probably the result of incomplete lineage sorting, because there is no evidence for admixture in the AFLP data and the mitochondrial haplotype groups of these species coalesce deeply. The same is true for the main haplotype groups of X. mesostena. The nonmonophyly of X. franciscoi might be the result of mitochondrial introgression, because the coalescences of the haplotypes of this species with some X. mesostena haplotypes are shallow and there is admixture with neighbouring X. mesostena.


The most likely causes for the nonmonophyly of species in the mitochondrial gene tree of the Xerocrassa radiation on Crete could be inferred using AFLP data by a combination of several criteria, namely the depth of the coalescences in the gene tree, the geographical distribution of shared genetic markers, and concordance with results of admixture analyses of nuclear multilocus markers. The strongly subdivided population structure increases the effective population size of land snail species and, thus, the likelihood of a long persistence of ancestral polymorphisms. Our study suggests that ancestral polymorphisms are a frequent cause for nonmonophyly of species with a strongly subdivided population structure in gene trees.