Geometric morphometric analysis of shell shape variation in Conus (Gastropoda: Conidae)

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Geometric morphometric techniques allow for the direct quantification and analysis of variation in biological shape and have been used in studies in systematic biology. However, these techniques have not been used for species discrimination in the gastropod genus Conus , a major taxon of significant tropical reef predators recognized for their peptide‐based toxins. Here, we used landmark digitization and analysis to show that five species commonly studied for their conotoxins –Conus consors , Conus miles , Conus stercusmuscarum , Conus striatus , and Conus textile – can be effectively distinguished from each other by their shape, as manifested in the results of a principal components analysis (PCA) and the generated thin‐plate splines. Two piscivorous species, C. stercusmuscarum and C. striatus , show clear overlaps in the PCA plot, although each taxon clusters within itself, as does each of the others. The loadings on the first two principal components show that the forms of the shells' aperture and spire are particularly important for discrimination. Phylogenetic analysis using neighbour‐joining methods shows that group separations are comparable with published phylogenetic schemes based on molecular data and feeding mode (i.e. piscivory, vermivory, molluscivory). The results of this study establish the utility of geometric morphometric methods in capturing the interspecific differences in shell form in the genus Conus . This may lead to the utilization of these methods on other gastropod taxa and the creation of species‐recognition programs based on shell shape.