Limestone karsts can form terrestrial habitat islands for calcium-dependent organisms. In Vietnam, many karst habitats are threatened, while their rich biodiversity is still far from being thoroughly explored. Given that conservation of karst biota strongly relies on correct species identification, the presence of undetected cryptic species can pose severe problems. The present study focuses on cryptic diversity among karst-inhabiting land snails of the genus Cyclophorus in northern Vietnam, where specimens with a similar shell morphology have been reported from various regions. In order to examine the diversity and evolutionary history of this “widespread morphotype”, we generated a Bayesian phylogeny based on DNA sequence data. Automatic Barcode Gap Discovery (ABGD) and the Bayesian implementation of the Poisson tree processes model (bPTP) contributed to species delimitation and analyses of shell shape and size aided the morphological characterisation of individual species. We found that the examined specimens of the widespread morphotype did not form a single monophyletic group in the phylogeny but clustered into several different clades. We delimited nine different species that develop the widespread morphotype and described four of them as new. Processes of convergent evolution were probably involved in the origin of the delimited species, while their generally allopatric distribution could result from interspecific competition. Our findings indicate ongoing processes of speciation and a potential case of morphological character displacement. The high degree of morphological overlap found among the species underlines the importance of DNA sequence data for species delimitation and description in the genus Cyclophorus. Given the findings of the present study and the high potential that as yet undiscovered cryptic taxa have also evolved in other groups of karst-inhabiting organisms, we argue for a systematic and efficient detection and description of Vietnam’s karst biodiversity to provide a solid basis for future conservation planning.
ASJC Scopus subject areas