Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Long-forgotten samples may help save species

08.04.2004


Some 600 vials stored in a University of Michigan freezer for more than 30 years may hold keys to rescuing nearly extinct Tahitian land snails.


Specimen of the Tahitian land snail Partula otaheitana sinistrorsasampled by J. B. Burch in 1970. Photo by Gene Lindsay.



The snails, famous since the late 1800s as classic examples of species that had rapidly diversified in an isolated environment, later became victims of a "spectacularly inept attempt at biological control," said U-M mollusk expert Diarmaid Ó Foighil.

The trouble started in 1975 when the predatory rosy wolf snail was deliberately introduced to many South Pacific islands to control an agricultural pest. The problem was, the rosy wolf snail had a bigger appetite for native land snails than for the pests it was supposed to devour. Over the years, the native snails were virtually wiped out, and today only six of the original 61 species of land snails originally found in the Society Island archipelago survive in the wild.


Researchers and conservationists stepped in during the 1980s and began setting up captive populations in European and North American Zoos (eventually including the Detroit Zoo), and snails from these breeding programs gradually are being reintroduced to protected areas in their former ranges. Understanding the evolutionary relationships between the captive populations, the remaining wild snails and the original 61 species would greatly aid conservation and rehabilitation efforts, said Ó Foighil, and that’s where those long-forgotten vials come in.

Back in 1970, U-M professor emeritus John B. (Jack) Burch traveled to Tahiti to study the native snails, which had not yet been decimated by the rosy wolf snail. Hiking deep into valleys where the snails were found, Burch collected several thousand specimens. Most were preserved in alcohol for anatomical studies, but he also shipped about 600 live snails back to U-M to be freeze-dried. At the time, researchers used proteins to study relationships among species, and freeze-drying preserves proteins. The plan was for Burch and a collaborator in Hawaii to use the freeze-dried material for a detailed study of evolutionary relationships in the famous Tahitian snails. But the collaborator died before the research could be done, and Burch became absorbed in other projects, leaving the vials of freeze-dried snails in three wooden trays in a freezer at the U-M Museum of Zoology.

If not for a chance conversation with Burch, Ó Foighil, who came to the University in 1995, might never have known about the vials and their conservation potential. "He had told me from time to time that he’d been in Tahiti, and I didn’t think too much about it," said Ó Foighil, "but then just about a year ago he mentioned all the stuff in the freezer, and I realized what a valuable resource we have. We have at hand, in freeze-dried form, a comprehensive sampling of the Tahitian land snail fauna from a point in time five years prior to the devastating introduction of the rosy wolf snail."

By extracting, amplifying and analyzing DNA from the samples, as well as from snails that die naturally in the zoo collections, Ó Foighil and colleagues can construct evolutionary trees. Some of the information they’ll obtain will be mainly of academic interest---settling such questions as whether the snails diversified into separate species before or after arriving in Tahiti from neighboring islands---but some will have practical uses. For example, the information may help conservationists figure out which captive snail populations are best to reintroduce to the wild and which of the remaining wild populations they should focus future conservation efforts on.

"The story here, in terms of conservation biology, is a horror story, but it’s not all black because some of these snails can be saved," said Ó Foighil, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a curator at the museum. "And by being able to reference what’s saved with the original fauna, we can have a rational conservation process."

The newfound uses for the old samples also underscore the value of museum collections and fundamental science, Ó Foighil added. "When Jack Burch sampled these snails, he didn’t know they were going to go extinct. It’s a classic case of the unexpected utility of such basic, collection-oriented research."

Nancy Ross Flanigan | University of Michigan
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu/news/index.html?Releases/2004/Apr04/r040704

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht How does the loss of species alter ecosystems?
18.05.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

nachricht Excess diesel emissions bring global health & environmental impacts
16.05.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Strathclyde-led research develops world's highest gain high-power laser amplifier

The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.

The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New insights into the ancestors of all complex life

29.05.2017 | Earth Sciences

New photocatalyst speeds up the conversion of carbon dioxide into chemical resources

29.05.2017 | Life Sciences

NASA's SDO sees partial eclipse in space

29.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>