Open Access Open Badges Research article

Moorean tree snail survival revisited: a multi-island genealogical perspective

Taehwan Lee1, John B Burch1, Trevor Coote2, Paul Pearce-Kelly3, Carole Hickman4, Jean-Yves Meyer5 and Diarmaid Ó Foighil1*

Author affiliations

1 Museum of Zoology and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, 1109 Geddes Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079, USA

2 Partulid Global Species Management Programme, B.P. 44921 Fare Tony, Papeete, Tahiti, Polynésie Française

3 Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London, UK

4 University of California, Department of Integrative Biology, 3060 VLSB #3140, Berkeley, CA 94720-3140, USA

5 Délégation à la Recherche, Ministère de l'Education, de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, B.P. 20981 Papeete, Tahiti, Polynésie Française

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:204  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-204

Published: 18 August 2009



The mass extirpation of the island of Moorea's endemic partulid tree snail fauna, following the deliberate introduction of the alien predator Euglandina rosea, represents one of the highest profile conservation crises of the past thirty years. All of the island's partulids were thought to be extirpated by 1987, with five species persisting in zoos, but intensive field surveys have recently detected a number of surviving wild populations. We report here a mitochondrial (mt) phylogenetic estimate of Moorean partulid wild and captive lineage survival calibrated with a reference museum collection that pre-dates the predator's introduction and that also includes a parallel dataset from the neighboring island of Tahiti.


Although severe winnowing of Moorea's mt lineage diversity has occurred, seven of eight (six Partula; two Samoana) partulid tip clades remain extant. The extinct mt clade occurred predominantly in the P. suturalis species complex and it represented a major component of Moorea's endemic partulid treespace. Extant Moorean mt clades exhibited a complex spectrum of persistence on Moorea, in captivity, and (in the form of five phylogenetically distinct sister lineages) on Tahiti. Most notably, three Partula taxa, bearing two multi-island mt lineages, have survived decades of E. rosea predation on Moorea (P. taeniata) and in the valleys of Tahiti (P. hyalina and P. clara). Their differential persistence was correlated with intrinsic attributes, such as taxonomy and mt lineages, rather than with their respective within-island distribution patterns.


Conservation efforts directed toward Moorean and Tahitian partulids have typically operated within a single island frame of reference, but our discovery of robust genealogical ties among survivors on both islands implies that a multi-island perspective is required. Understanding what genetic and/or ecological factors have enabled Partula taeniata, P. hyalina and P. clara to differentially survive long-term direct exposure to the predator may provide important clues toward developing a viable long term conservation plan for Society Island partulid tree snails.