Ecologists are taking to the trees in a bid to unravel the ecology of shell coiling in snails. Speaking at the British Ecological Society’s Annual Meeting, being held at Manchester Metropolitan University on 9-11 September 2003, Dr Paul Craze of the University of Plymouth will explain how examining the proportion of right- and left-coiling individuals in a species of Bornean tree snail could help ecologists understand how new species arise.
The vast majority of snail species are almost exclusively dextral, or right-coilers, with just the occasional sinistral, or left-coiling, individual. However, in a small number of snail species there appears to be a stable balance between the number of right- and left-coilers. Coil direction in snails is inherited from the mother and is controlled by a single genetic locus or region, and coil direction is important because it is difficult for right-coiling snails to mate with left-coiling snails.
The fact that left- and right-coiling snails cannot align themselves properly during mating is, however, more than an irritation to the snails and an interesting puzzle for ecologists. Understanding how new species arise is a fundamental biological problem, and in the case of snails, some ecologists believe that the existence of left- and right-coiling individuals could be one mechanism for sympatric speciation (the development of new species by isolating them other than geographically). Since left-coiling and right-coiling snails find it hard to mate with each other they may, over time, develop into separate species.
Becky Allen | alfa
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