Research at the Mollusca Section
We have studied the diversity, morphology, taxonomy, ultrastructure, phylogeny and evolution of worldwide opisthobranch gastropods, chitons, monoplacophorans and other mollusks, with more than 100 peer-reviewed papers published during the last 10 years (see lists on staff page).
Taxonomic, faunal and biogeographical approaches include South America (e.g. Schrödl 1999, 2003, 2009), Antarctica(e.g. Schwabe et al. 2007) and adjacent Atlantic deep sea (e.g. Schrödl et al. 2011), but also worldwide tropical reefs such as northern Sulawesi (Burghardt et al. 2006), Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa and Fiji (e.g. Neusser & Schrödl 2009).
Traditional comparative anatomical and phylogenetic methodology (e.g. Schrödl et al. 2001, Schrödl & Wägele 2001, Martynov & Schrödl 2008) was supplemented by modeling 3D-microanatomy from serial semithin (e.g. Brenzinger et al. 2011a) and TEM sections (Jörger et al. 2009). Recently, considering microanatomical and ontogenetic data (Martynov et al. 2011), we challenged current views on dorid sea slug evolution and showed the prominent role of heterochrony (Martynov & Schrödl 2011). Using Acochlidian sea slugs as a globally distributed and ecologically diverse model taxon with manageable species richness we compare and integrate morphology-based (Schrödl & Neusser 2010) and molecular phylogenetic approaches (Jörger et al. 2010; Neusser et al. 2011).
Molecular phylogenetic work with multi-locus markers started with opisthobranch phylogeny (Vonnemann et al. 2005), addressed chitons (Okusu et al. 2003) and basal molluscs (Giribet et al. 2006), and led to a recent reclassification and molecular timing of euthyneurans (Jörger et al. 2010). What we may call the “New Euthyneura Tree” changes centenary textbook knowledge on the evolution of this extremely diverse group (Schrödl et al. 2011). Work in progress concentrates on resolving basal molluscan and heterobranch gastropod phylogeny, integrating targeted genes, mitogenomic and phylogenomic approaches with morphological and fossil evidences.
Recent research efforts refer to uncovering cryptic diversity, conceptually and practically delimitating species via molecular and integrative approaches, and transferring results into sound taxonomy. Exploring anatomy of complex and small specimens or organ systems in greatest possible depth via software-generated 3D-models from semiserial histological sections is a perfect supplement testing molecular results and filling species trees with life (Brenzinger et al. 2011a,b,c; Eder et al., 2011). As an example, the “bug-eating slug” Aiteng ater, single member of the new sacoglossan family Aitengidae and among the “Top 10 bizarre species of the year 2010”, was shown to be an acochlidian adapted to semi-terrestrial life (Neusser et al. 2011a). Beyond DNA barcoding, Neusser et al. (2011b) presented a case study to the question of proper species delineation, when dealing with small animals cryptic to traditional taxonomy, and far from optimal sampling sizes available. Adopting this integrative, multi-methodological standard, we strive to explore cryptic sea slug diversity from global sampling efforts, newly also including Bavarian mollusks.
Science works on a global scale, and staff of the Mollusca Section is connected to numerous museums, institutes, programs and experts on all continents; e.g. the Huinay Scientific Field Station.