Hot pink slugs that emerge after rainy nights have become a conservation symbol for alpine forests on Australia’s Mount Kaputar, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
The slugs, which measure up to 20 centimeters (8 inches), are only found on Mount Kaputar, a volcano that last erupted 17 million years ago. They spend most of their time buried under leaf litter, but emerge by the hundreds when conditions are right to feed on moss, algae, and fungi. While their fluorescent coloration may seem jarring, it actually helps them blend in with brightly-colored eucalyptus leaves that cover the forest floor.
The slug, Triboniophorus aff. graeffei, shares its habitat with carnivorous land snails that are also unique to the mountaintop, according to recent research. Based on the presence of the species and the uniqueness of the ecosystem, which represents a remnant of a type of forest that once covered much of eastern Australia, but disappeared once Australia separated from the supercontinent Gondwana some 180 million years ago, the New South Wales Scientific Committee recently moved to list the site as an “endangered ecological community”, granting it the highest level of protected status.
Photo by Michael Murphy of the National Parks and Wildlife Service
“The endemic species that are restricted to the moist refugia of higher elevations in the Mount Kaputar area are of particular concern. These species have evolved from lowland ancestors and have been isolated in an otherwise snail-hostile environment as conditions began to dry,” stated the committee’s report. “As a result they are acutely susceptible to the modifications in habitat structure and distribution that are likely to occur in the future.” These include rising temperatures, shifts in rainfall, changes in fire regimes wrought by human-induced climate change, according to the report.
Photo by Michael Murphy of the National Parks and Wildlife Service
The giant hot pink slugs and other inhabitants of Mount Kaputar aren’t the only Australian species at risk from climate change and other human impacts. A 2011 study led by William F. Laurance of James Cook University identified several habitats whose species could be particularly vulnerable to increased drought and higher temperatures. For example, the white lemuroid possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides) is found only in the cool, cloud forests above 1,100 meters on Mount Lewis in northern Queensland, a habitat that’s rapidly changing due to climbing temperatures. Some researchers argue that Australia’s marine species also face an uncertain near-term future. Rising temperatures and increasing ocean acidification could doom many of the dominant coral species that currently make up the Great Barrier Reef.
View from lookout in Mount Kaputar National Park. Photo by Rob Cleary of the National Parks and Wildlife Service
- Michelle Leishman (2013). Preliminary Determination on the the Mount Kaputar high elevation and vine thicket land snail and slug community in the Nandewar and Brigalow Belt South Bioregions. NSW Scientific Committee. May 17, 2013.
- William F. Laurance et al (2011) The 10 Australian ecosystems most vulnerable to tipping points. Biological Conservation 144, 1472-1480.
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