Aplexa marmorata (Guilding, 1828)(Basommatophora : Physidae) : an invasive freshwater snail in South Africa.
Invasions of ecosystems by alien species is a worldwide problem. Man, with his constant travelling, introduces organisms to places they have never occurred in before. The introductions may be accidental or deliberate. Some of the introduced organisms become invasive and some of these also become pests. Two aquatic pulmonate snails, Physa acuta (Physidae) and Lymnaea columella (Lymnaeidae), were introduced to South Africa probably through the aquarium industry in the 1940s and have now spread to most of the country's freshwater systems. A third invasive pulmonate, and second physid provisionally called Aplexa cf. marmorata, has recently been found in South African freshwaters. Comparison between A.. cf. marmorata found in Durban and P. acuta from Pietermaritzburg as an example of the genus Physa, confirmed that they belong to different genera and are therefore different species. Features compared were the shell, radula, foot, mantle, male genitalia and sperm morphology. Aplexa cf. marmorata is characterized by its foot having a pointed posterior end with a dark mid-dorsal stripe while that of P. acuta does not have these features. The mantle edge ofA.cf. marmorata has short triangular dentations while that of P. acuta has long finger-like projections. Aplexa cf. marmorata does not have an externally visible preputial gland whereas P. acuta does. The penis of A.cf. marmorata has a lateral opening while that of P. acuta has a sub-terminal outlet. TEM sections of the spermatozoon of A.cf. marmorata showed that it has a maximum of two glycogen helices around the mid-piece while P. acuta is known to have three. A study of the population dynamics of A.cf. marmorata in Durban showed it to produce three overlapping generations within a 14 month period whereas P. acuta has been shown to produce as many as eight over a similar time period. Further comparisons between South African A. cf. marmorata and similar material from the West Indies, Nigeria and St Lucia (KwaZulu-Natal) showed that they shared the same features with the specimens collected in Durban and are therefore considered to belong to the same species , Aplexa marmorata (Guilding, 1828). This species is indigenous to the Caribbean and northern parts of South America. The picture is however complicated by the fact that Dr L Paraense, doyen of the Brazilian school of freshwater malacology, does not recognize the genus Aplexa and redescribed this species under the name Physa marmorata in 1986.