Small heath snails

Small heath snails – major questions: Initial attempts to clarify the situation of Helicopsis striata in Austria

Communication: Anita Eschner, Katharina Mason

[Fotos: A. Mrkvicka]

The older malacological literature differentiates three species of the genus Helicopsis in Austria: the Striped heath snail Helicopsis striata (O. F. Müller 1774), the “Hungarian” heath snail Helicopsis hungarica (Soos & Wagner 1935) and the Austrian heath snail Helicopsis austriaca Gittenberger 1969, whereby the latter two were subsequently downgraded to subspecies of Helicopsis striata. All three forms are characteristic inhabitants of relict sites with open, sparse vegetation – a highly endangered habitat in Austria. The subspecies austriaca is listed in Appendix II of the Habitats Directive, and the validity of the subspecies hungarica is questioned by some authors. For these reasons, and because it remains unclear whether the populations in Seewinkel belong to the latter or represent an independent taxon, a project was initiated to re-map and phylogenetically investigate the Austrian populations of Helicopsis striata.

Already the first results of a molecular genetic analysis (short segment of the mitochondrial COI gene) had shown that the three subspecies can be clearly differentiated. Moreover, during the course of the project, all three subspecies of heath snails were found alive also on sites where they had been considered as extinct. This may partially reflect improved dry grassland management in recent years. In a next step, comprehensive genetic, shell- and genital-morphological investigations were conducted leading to a revaluation of the three subspecies to species level. The results confirmed H. austriaca a nature treasure of Eastern Austria, where it inhabits natural rock and gravel steppe. One population of the Seewinkel was confirmed to be H. hungarica. The project was funded by the provincial governments of Lower Austria and Burgenland.

Project leaders:

Anita Eschner

Anita Eschner

Natural History Museum Vienna, 3rd Zoological Department

Email: anita.eschner@nhm-wien.ac.at

Read more about Anita Eschner

Katharina Mason

Katharina Mason

Natural History Museum Vienna, 3rd Zoological Department

Email: katharina.mason@nhm-wien.ac.at

Read more about Katharina Mason

Collaborators:

Duda, M., Haring, E., Bieringer, G., Mrkvicka, A.

Publications on Helicopsis

Journal articles

Duda, M., Haring, E., Bieringer, G., Eschner, A., Mrkvicka, A., & Mason, K. (2018). Taxonomic reassessment of Helicopsis austriaca Gittenberger, 1969 and its relationships to H. striata (O.F. Müller, 1774) and H. hungarica (Soos & H. Wagner, 1935) (Eupulmonata: Helicoidea). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 84(4), 432–450. https://doi.org/10.1093/mollus/eyy044

Abstracts

Duda, M., & Jaksch, K. (2015). Detailsektionen an Penes der Unterarten von Helicopsis striata (O. F. MÜLLER 1774) in Ostösterreich und angrenzenden Gebieten. Presented at the 54. Frühjahrstreffen der Deutschen Malakozoologischen Gesellschaft, Beatenberg bei Interlaken (Schweiz).
Duda, M., Mason, K., Haring, E., Mrkvicka, A. C., Kruckenhauser, L., Bieringer, G., & Eschner, A. (2017). Taxonomic revaluation of the Austrian endemic Helicopsis austriaca (Gastropoda: Eupulmonata: Hygromiidae) in the light of Natura 2000. Presented at the Euromal – 8th European Conference of Malacological societies, 10-14. September, Krakau, Polen, Kraków, Poland.
Eschner, A., Bieringer, G., Duda, M., Gobets, G., Jaksch, K., & Mrkvicka, A. (2014). Small steppe land species - big questions: First attempts to clarify the situation of Helicopsis striata and ssp. in Eastern Austria. Presented at the Workshop Alpine Land Snails 2014, Johnsbach, Austria.

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