Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

Michael McKinney

Committee Members

Brian O'Meara, Colin D. Sumrall, Matthew Niemiller


Molecular studies have recently led to the detection of many cryptic species complexes within morphologically ambiguous species formerly undescribed by the scientific community. Organisms such as land snails are at a particularly high risk of species misidentification and misinterpretation, in that gastropod systematics are based almost entirely on external shell morphology. Subterranean ecosystems are associated with especially high degrees of cryptic speciation, largely owing to the abiotic similarities of these systems. In this study, I attempt to diagnose the potential cryptic diversity in the troglobitic land snail Helicodiscus barri. Land snails are generally associated with having low vagility, and as such this species’ broad, mosaic distribution indicates the misdiagnosis of this organism as a single species. I analyze both mitochondrial (CO1, 16S) and nuclear (28S, H3) genetic data for 23 populations. Phylogeny for H. barri was reconstructed using both maximum-likelihood and Bayesian approaches to assess relationships among populations, and two species delimitation methods — mPTP and ABGD — were used to detect the presence of unique molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs). Species delimitation results revealed seven and sixteen MOTUs respectively, suggesting the presence of several cryptic lineages within H. barri. To assess how external shell morphology corresponds with both patterns of genetic and environmental variation, two morphometric approaches were utilized incorporating 115 shells from 31 populations. Both morphometric approaches reveal a significant environmental influence on shell morphology, and one approach showed the significance of MOTU groups. Further, I discuss the delimitation and morphometric results and additionally provide discussion on the taxonomic and conservation implications of this study.

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