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Pacific Island Snails

Pacific island land snails (PILS) represent an extraordinary component of biodiversity found scattered across an area that occupies one-third of the Earth’s surface. Unfortunately, PILS are also the taxonomic group with the highest number of recorded extinctions among all known animals. Conservation of this vast diversity requires accurate and current knowledge of their biodiversity and taxonomy. Critical to developing this knowledge and making decisions about biodiversity conservation are museum natural history collections. The largest Pacific island land snail collection in the world is at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (BPBM). These 4 million specimens represent threatened, endangered, and extinct species, all of which are irreplaceable. At the Bishop Museum, we endeavor to safeguard this collection in perpetuity as well as utilize and grow the collection to allow us and others to learn about this amazing fauna and help protect the remaining species.

Highlighted Projects

National Science Foundation (CSBR): Natural History Collections: Housing, Databasing, Digitizing and Accessibility Upgrades to the Largest Pacific Island Land Snail Collection (Bishop Museum; NSF DBI – 1561774; 2016-2020)

a man sitting at a desk working on a piece of paper.

To ensure the security and accessibility of specimens and associated data, this project was focused on several primary objectives:

1. Eliminate sources of Byne’s and glass disease to prevent damage and loss of specimens among the more than 116,900 specimens records or lots.

2. Update the Museum’s in-house and online databases by digitizing ledgers and specimen label data, and link these data to about 180,000 specimen records.

3. Identify and photograph all specimens of an organism on which the scientific name is based (also known as primary type material).

4. Train students from underrepresented STEM groups (e.g. Pacific Islanders, women in science) in fields of science needed to address current and pending biodiversity crises (e.g. systematics, taxonomy, conservation biology, museum science, and science communication).

National Science Foundation (Digitization TCN): Collaborative Research: Enhancing Access to Taxonomic and Biogeographical Data to Stem the Tide of Extinction of the Highly Imperiled Pacific Island Land Snails (NSF DBI – 1902328; 2019-2024)

One goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive data resource (the Pacific Island Land Snail Biodiversity Repository; PILSBRY) to provide information needed to identify and assess the distributions and conservation status of Pacific island land snails. Researchers from five of the largest natural history collections in the nation will be joining forces to build an educational program to train and engage the science community, students, and citizen scientists to aid them in the digitization, mobilization, and enhancement of 3.6 million Pacific island land snail specimen records. This project will increase capacity of experts to support tropical island biodiversity research and conservation and accelerate species discovery.

Diagram of specimen data made available through PILSBRy portal.

National Science Foundation (Collaborative Research): Addressing knowledge and capacity shortfalls to advance conservation science and action for endangered Hawaiian land snails (NSF DEB – New Award 2023)

Saving the remaining species and restoring these jewels of the Hawaiian forests requires knowledge of species interactions and their ecological requirements. Understanding why land snails live where they do, what they feed on, and what their other habitat requirements are is critical to successful captive rearing of the remaining species and to returning them to the wild in protected and restored habitats.

Researchers will incorporate studies in microbial genomics, field ecology, and captive rearing diets that address the most urgent knowledge gaps in Hawaiian land snail ecology. By examining resource preferences and feeding ecology of Hawaiian lands snails this project will:

1. Determine snail feeding preferences on bacteria and fungi that grow on their native host plants.

2. Characterize the microbial communities that likely form key components of snail diets.

3. Identify preferred plants and microbial communities that improve snail survivorship and breeding in captivity.

The data gathered will be used to expand captive rearing capacity, restore degraded habitats with preferred plant resources, and build long term capacity for effective land snail conservation in Hawaii. Knowing which microbial assemblages enhance snail survivorship, growth, and fecundity will provide conservationists with a powerful tool to assess quality of snail habitat. It will also enable restoration practitioners to create habitats to support extant populations in the wild.

a collage of pictures of different types of bugs.

Seven of the approximately 100 species of Hawaiian land snails of greatest conservation need. Top (L-R): Cookeconcha hystricella, Kaala subrutila, Partulina mighelsiana. Bottom (L-R): Laminella sanguinea, Amastra intermedia, Pleuropoma honokawaiensis, Leptachatina cuneata.

Contact Us

a woman sitting at a desk with a microscope in front of her.

Dr. Norine Yeung

Dr. Norine Yeung’s current research interests are focused on understanding the evolutionary mechanisms and processes that generate, maintain, and in some cases, reduce biodiversity. Teaching is central to her research, as an educator of science, policy and management.

Be a Part of Our Story

Celebrate the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific with a gift to Bishop Museum. As a partner in the Museum’s work, you can help to sustain vital collections, research, and knowledge, and inspire exploration and discovery with a tax-deductible donation.

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