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.
Nancy Ross Flanigan | University of Michigan
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