Unionid bivalves or freshwater pearly-mussels (Unionoidea: Unionidae) serve as an exemplary system for examining many of the problems facing systematists and conservation biologists today. Most of the species and genera were described in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but few phylogenetic studies have been conducted to test conventional views of species and classification. Pearly-mussels of Gulf Coastal drainages of the southeastern United States from the Escambia (southern Alabama to Florida) to the Suwannee Rivers (Florida) are a unique fauna comprised of approximately 100 species, with about 30 endemic to the region. In this study, mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I and 16S rRNA gene sequences were used to test the monophyly and to estimate evolutionary relationships of five unionid species representing three different genera. The molecular phylogenies depict all three genera as polyphyletic. The prodigious polyphyly exhibited within unionids is due to incorrect notions of homology and false assumptions about missing anatomical data. In contrast, the molecular phylogeny provides evidence to support the recognition of all five unionid species as distinct evolutionary entities. Furthermore, molecular genealogical evidence supports the elevation of Quincuncina infucata (Conrad) of the Suwannee River to species level, for which Q. kleiniana (Lea) is available.
Additional publication details
Prodigious polyphyly in imperilled freshwater pearly-mussels (Bivalvia: Unionidae): a phylogenetic test of species and generic designations