Open Access Research article

Phylogeny and androgenesis in the invasive Corbicula clams (Bivalvia, Corbiculidae) in Western Europe

Lise-Marie Pigneur*, Jonathan Marescaux, Kathleen Roland, Emilie Etoundi, Jean-Pierre Descy and Karine Van Doninck

Author affiliations

Research Unit in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology (URBE), University of Namur (FUNDP), Rue de Bruxelles, 61, 5000 Namur - Belgium

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:147  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-147

Published: 27 May 2011



The genus Corbicula is one of the most invasive groups of molluscs. It includes both sexual and androgenetic lineages. The present study re-assessed the different morphotypes and haplotypes of West European Corbicula in order to clarify their taxonomic identification and phylogenetic relationships with American and Asian Corbicula clams. We studied several populations from West European river basins (Meuse, Seine, Rhine and Rhône) through an "integrative taxonomy" approach. We combined morphology, partial mitochondrial COI and cyt b sequences and eleven microsatellite loci. Furthermore, we looked for discrepancies between mtDNA and nrDNA/morphology, indicative of androgenesis between lineages.


There are three Corbicula morphotypes in Western Europe associated to three mitochondrial lineages and three genotypes. Form R shares the same COI haplotype as the American form A and the Japanese C. leana. Form S and the American form C have the same haplotype, although their morphologies seem divergent. The European form Rlc belongs to the same mitochondrial lineage as both the American form B and the Asian C. fluminea.

Interestingly, within each haplotype/genotype or lineage, no genetic diversity was found although their invasive success is high. Moreover, we detected rare mismatches between mtDNA and nrDNA/morphology, indicative of androgenesis and mitochondrial capture between form R and form S and therefore challenging the phylogenetic relatedness and the species status within this genus. The global phylogenetic analysis revealed that the sexual Corbicula lineages seem restricted to the native areas while their androgenetic relatives are widespread and highly invasive.


We clarified the discrepancies and incongruent results found in the literature about the European morphotypes of Corbicula and associated mitochondrial lineages. The three West European morphotypes belong to three distinct nuclear and mitochondrial lineages. However mitochondrial capture occurs in sympatric populations of forms R and S. The species status of the morphotypes therefore remains doubtful. Moreover the androgenetic lineages seem widely distributed compared to their sexual relatives, suggesting that androgenesis and invasive success may be linked in the genus Corbicula.