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 Robotic fish to replace animal testing
17.06.2019 | Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg

nachricht Marine oil snow
12.06.2019 | University of Delaware

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: Successfully Tested in Praxis: Bidirectional Sensor Technology Optimizes Laser Material Deposition

The quality of additively manufactured components depends not only on the manufacturing process, but also on the inline process control. The process control ensures a reliable coating process because it detects deviations from the target geometry immediately. At LASER World of PHOTONICS 2019, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be demonstrating how well bi-directional sensor technology can already be used for Laser Material Deposition (LMD) in combination with commercial optics at booth A2.431.

Fraunhofer ILT has been developing optical sensor technology specifically for production measurement technology for around 10 years. In particular, its »bd-1«...

Im Focus: The hidden structure of the periodic system

The well-known representation of chemical elements is just one example of how objects can be arranged and classified

The periodic table of elements that most chemistry books depict is only one special case. This tabular overview of the chemical elements, which goes back to...

Im Focus: MPSD team discovers light-induced ferroelectricity in strontium titanate

Light can be used not only to measure materials’ properties, but also to change them. Especially interesting are those cases in which the function of a material can be modified, such as its ability to conduct electricity or to store information in its magnetic state. A team led by Andrea Cavalleri from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg used terahertz frequency light pulses to transform a non-ferroelectric material into a ferroelectric one.

Ferroelectricity is a state in which the constituent lattice “looks” in one specific direction, forming a macroscopic electrical polarisation. The ability to...

Im Focus: Determining the Earth’s gravity field more accurately than ever before

Researchers at TU Graz calculate the most accurate gravity field determination of the Earth using 1.16 billion satellite measurements. This yields valuable knowledge for climate research.

The Earth’s gravity fluctuates from place to place. Geodesists use this phenomenon to observe geodynamic and climatological processes. Using...

Im Focus: Tube anemone has the largest animal mitochondrial genome ever sequenced

Discovery by Brazilian and US researchers could change the classification of two species, which appear more akin to jellyfish than was thought.

The tube anemone Isarachnanthus nocturnus is only 15 cm long but has the largest mitochondrial genome of any animal sequenced to date, with 80,923 base pairs....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new force for optical tweezers awakens

19.06.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New AI system manages road infrastructure via Google Street View

19.06.2019 | Information Technology

A new manufacturing process for aluminum alloys

19.06.2019 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>