Australian scientists from the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment discovered ten new land snail species in the Northern Territory near the Victoria River. A survey of remote pastoral lands was conducted. The areas were difficult to reach so a helicopter was employed to make the work easier.
Dr. Michael Braby, an entomologist with a museum in the Northern Territory, said, “It seems fitting that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity because we uncovered 10 species that have never been collected before; these snails are all undescribed and therefore new to science.” (Source: Brisbane Times)
He also explained land snails are a good indicator of environmental health as they are impacted by overgrazing, fire and invasive grasses. In other words, a decline in their populations could signal the a whole land area has been damaged. In a sense, they provide a valuable service to their environments and to scientists who can interpret such signals. Snails have also been used to determine metal levels, such as lead in urban environments. The value snails have as an indicator species contradicts the general view they are just pests. After the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, a snail survey was conducted using the idea that snails could be an indicator species for the environment of lowland Sri Lanka.
Snails also provide food for birds, and recycle nutrients back into the soil which helps keep it fertile. The point of the Australian researcher’s survey was to help collect data about the species living in the area so they can be better conserved. A snail overview from Oregon State University says there are 40,000 snail species worldwide.
Image Credit: Vince Kessner