Nature Blog Network

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Tahitian Tree Snails Survive Mass Extirpation by Heading to the Mountains

In a new short, but sweet, paper by Lee et al. published in the most recent Current Biology, there is a "glimmer of hope" for montane tahitian tree snails (Mollusca, Gastropoda, Partulidae, Partula). They examined mitochondrial haplotype diversity of tree snail specimens locked away in museum drawers from 1970 and compared that to individuals from the wild and in

Partula spp. from Society Islands.
Photo Credit: Marc Agren

captivity from 2004-2005. What they found was that all the major clades from 1970 are present, though severaly winnowed, in modern day captive or wild populations. If that weren't enough to get the conservation junkies all jumping up and down in their pants. They were able to observe that 4 out of the 5 main Partula clades persisted on mountaintop refuges. This gives conservation efforts of Tahiti's tree snails a hot spot focal point to conserve the genetic diversity of the Partula lineage.

"Only a few years ago, it looked like the sole survivors from this radiation would be the captive populations that have been painstakingly established and maintained for decades in European and American zoos. Our new study indicates that it may be possible to maintain genetically representative remnant wild populations on Tahiti, the largest Society Island, although this will require proactive conservation measures."-Co-author Diarmaid Ó Foighil of The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (quoted from EurekAlert!)

This also represents the extreme importance of museum collections to conservation. Without the proper vouchering and preservation techniques employed by quality museum staff, the 1970 snails wouldn't have been available to help answer this conundrum. The plight of the tree snail was not a light one. 61 species of Partulid tree snails were described from the Society Islands. Today, only 5 remain. The culprit? The carnivorous rosy wolf snail (Euglandina rosea, right), an invasive brought in to control another invasive snail from Africa (which was coincidentally brought over as a potential food source...).
"Natural history museum collections represent time-islands of biological diversity whose real value only becomes apparent in the long run. Jack Burch went to Tahiti in 1970 as a museum curator engaged in basic collection-oriented research. At the time, his Tahitian tree snail collections did not have any special conservation value. They are now priceless.”-Diarmaid Ó Foighil (quoted from EurekAlert!)

Go out and support your local natural history museum today! You never know what that $10 admission will do to help conserve species and understand our complex global ecosystem. Better yet, become a member, volunteer and participate in museum activities. Be a part of something great.


  1. That is indeed good news.

    There was a paper that came out a few years ago maybe in Science that was emphasizing the value of mountains for the survival of endangered species.

  2. Wonderful news, and thanks for the shout out about natural history collections. I work in a medium sized natural history museum in Chicago, and we are currently attempting to revitalize our collections.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog.


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