A team of Dutch and Malaysian scientists has recently completed one part of a taxonomic revision of Plectostoma, a genus of tiny land snails in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, according to their article published recently in ZooKeys, it seems that these animals may be going extinct as fast as they are being discovered.
“Many of these species are in such dire straits,” said Menno Schilthuizen of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands and the Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation in Malaysia, “some of them are literally going extinct in front of our eyes.”
Plectostoma sinyumensis is listed by the IUCN as Near Threatened because one of the four limestone hills that this species inhabits is at risk of destruction from quarrying.
To classify the 214 samples of the genus Plectostoma (formerly a subgenus of Opisthostoma) the scientists used a micro-CT scanner to look at three-dimensional images of the internal structures of the snails’ shells. Along with DNA data, they were able to use these results to determine which populations belong to previously described species and which did not. This process led to the classification of 31 species, 10 of which were completely new to science.
The paper proposed conservation statuses for all 31 species of Plectostoma based on criteria that the IUCN uses to assess the viability of populations such as population size, rate of population decline, suspected population size reduction, and habitat fragmentation. These assessments and the authors’ categorizations are currently being submitted to the IUCN.
The authors suggest that 10 of the 31 species in the article are threatened, and one (P. sciaphilum) has already gone extinct.
“Many of these species live only on highly threatened limestone hills,” Schilthuizen told mongabay.com. “Destruction of limestone hills by quarrying for cement is the major culprit [of the disappearance of these snails].”
Plectostoma siphonostomum is classified as Least Concern because there are several populations living within national parks in Malaysia.
To limit the damage that quarrying can have on an area, the researchers believe it is important that cement companies are restricted from buying entire hills.
“Often endemic species (species found nowhere else in the world but a specific area) can survive on half a hill, if it is allowed to regenerate after quarrying activity has ceased,” Schilthuizen said.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia, there are few laws protecting these vital areas, putting nearly 130 limestone-adapted plants and animals in danger of extinction.
In an effort to define the new species and honor those who have furthered conservation in Southeast Asia, the researchers derived many of the names of the new snails from well-known scientists and politicians. Plectostoma kayiana, for example, was named after Kay Arnold and Ian Mellsop, a couple who has devoted much of their careers to wildlife conservation around Lake Kenyir in eastern Malaysia, where the species was discovered.
“There are passionate organizations and members of the public fighting everyday to address these threats,” Reuben Clements, a conservation expert with WWF-Malaysia, told mongabay.com.
The scientists plan to continue describing species to better understand how these rare ecosystems function. The second part of this study will focus specifically on Plectostoma snails in Borneo, where many species have never before been surveyed.
Plectostoma christae is listed as Near Threatened because it is not immediately threatened. However, there are still very few populations.
- Liew T-S, Vermeulen JJ, bin Marzuki ME, Schilthuizen M (2014). A cybertaxonomic revision of the micro-landsnail genus Plectostoma Adam (Mollusca, Caenogastropoda, Diplommatinidae), from Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Indochina. ZooKeys 393: 1. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.393.6717
(05/29/2014) Next week, the rainforests of Southeast Asia are going live. On June 2nd, 11 organizations in the region will be posting lives video, photos, and wildlife sightings over 24 hours on Facebook and Twitter (see #rainforestlive). Dubbed Rainforest: Live, the initiative hopes to raise awareness of quickly vanishing ecosystems and species.
(05/09/2014) President Obama elevated the issue of destruction of rainforests for palm oil production during his brief visit to Malaysia last week.
(05/06/2014) Genting Plantations Bhd’s stock price fell by more than two percent after the palm oil company’s membership in the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was suspended due to a complaint by the Borneo Rhino Alliance for failing to abide by the body’s principles on establishing new plantations, reports The Edge Financial Daily.
(05/02/2014) Malaysia is set to lose ancient limestone formations to quarrying despite the discovery of new species of geckos in the area. The species are described in three studies recently published in the journal Zootaxa. One of the discoveries, Cyrtodactylus metropolis, is the first endemic vertebrate species discovered in the Batu Caves area.
(04/21/2014) Forest disturbance in Malaysia, Bolivia, Panama, and Ecuador surged during the first quarter of 2014, according to NASA data.
(04/17/2014) The Malaysian state should play a more active role in supporting the transition toward less environmentally destructive palm oil production, says a coalition of Malaysian NGO’s. In a statement issued Sunday, the Malaysian Palm Oil NGO Coalition (MPONGOC) urged Malaysian banks, palm oil associations, and other government-backed institutions to commit to ‘improving social and environmental standards in the palm oil industry’.