Identification of ‘extinct’ freshwater mussel species using DNA barcoding

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Freshwater mollusks are highly imperiled, with 70% of the North American species extinct, endangered, or at risk of extinction. Impoundments and other human impacts on the Coosa River of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee of the southeastern USA alone are believed to have caused 50 mollusk species extinctions, but uncertainty over boundaries among several putatively closely related species makes this number preliminary. Our examination of freshwater mussels collected during an extensive survey of the upper-drainage basin, DNA barcoding and molecular phylogenetic analyses confirm the rediscovery of four morphospecies in the genus Pleurobema (Unionidae) previously thought to be extinct from the upper Coosa basin. A fifth ‘extinct’ form was found in an adjoining basin. Molecular data show that the Coosa morphologies represent at least three species-level taxa: Pleurobema decisum, P. hanleyianum and P. stabile. Endemism is higher than currently recognized, both at the species level and for multispecies clades. Prompt conservation efforts may preserve some of these taxa and their ecosystem.