During the survey of over 1,000 sites across the Hawaiian Islands, the researchers from the Bishop Museum and the Florida Museum of Natural History have found what must be the last of its kind native Hawaiian snail on the island of Nihoa.
They believe that this slice of jagged rock in the Pacific Ocean is the sole refuge of the rediscovered native Hawaiian land snail once thought of to be extinct. The snails are called Endodonta christenseni, first discovered in 1923 but did not have any scientific name and description.
Phys.org reports that Endodonta christenseni is likely the last species of the Endondonta genus. The other 11 species collected and described over 100 years ago have long been gone and can only be seen in museums today.
Rediscovered Native Hawaiian Land Snails
According to the scientists who rediscovered the land snails, they could soon vanish along with the stories it could tell without the protection that these species need. The researchers said that the first step in conserving these rediscovered species is by maintaining its population.
Study lead author Kenneth Hayes said that this type of work "this sort of work forms the foundation for all conservation efforts." He added that effective research and conservation efforts are hindered by the lack of knowledge about biodiversity, especially the severely understudied and highly threatened groups such as these native land snails.
These native snails have suffered more recorded extinctions in the past 400 years due to the destruction of their natural habitats, invasive predators, and climate change.
Fortunately, the researchers were able to record almost 300 species of snails that were once thought extinct for many years, including the E. christenseni, even though there are over 700 of them that are already lost on the island, EurekAlert! reported.
The study co-principal investigator and malacology curator Norine Yeung of the Bishop Museum said that the results of their extensive survey had given hope to conservationists like them that there are still many species left that can be saved. But to do that, an immediate response is needed to beat the species' possible extinction crisis.
Museum records have led the researchers to look for E. christenseni in the island of Nihoa to verify their existence on the remote island, said Florida Museum invertebrate zoology collection manager John Splacinsky.
"Having those museum specimens allowed us to target specific areas and find these things again. Everything depends on prior knowledge," he said.
Conserving the Rediscovered Land Snails
E. christenseni relies on the tussocks of variable lovegrass for moisture and sustenance. Slapcinsky said that they likely live and reproduce in the plant's moist center while feeding on fungal films. Researchers believe that they likely became extinct when the lowland grass areas in Hawaii have been replaced by exotic vegetation and invasive organisms, Science Daily reported.
Despite being an uninhabited area, the island of Nihoa remains vulnerable to human disturbances. Still, the rediscovery of the land snails has conservationists call out to implement conservation rules on the island.
The team hopes to introduce new species into the Snail Extinction Prevention Program of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. They added that rediscovering these land snail populations sheds light on ways to conserve them and signals that there is still hope for them.
The land snail is named after Bishop Museum scientist Carl Christensen, an expert on Pacific island snails and dedicated his life to their conservation.
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