Small heath snails
Small heath snails – major questions: Initial attempts to clarify the situation of Helicopsis striata in Austria
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.
Duda, M., Haring, E., Bieringer, G., Mrkvicka, A.