Pacific Island Snails

Islands comprise only 5% of the earth’s landmass, yet the study of island plants and animals has contributed substantially to our understanding of how organisms interact with one another and their environment. Nowhere, in relation to land area, does land snail diversity reach that of the Pacific islands, with >6,000 species. Snail shells leave a record that provide insights into modern and historical environmental change and human migration and trade. The understanding of which provides the knowledge necessary to conserve valuable natural resources that play vital roles in maintaining ecosystem integrity.

Habitat destruction, climate change and invasive species are wiping out land snails at an alarming rate. Snails have the highest recorded extinction rate of any major animal group and the majority of extinctions are from Pacific islands. 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 6 million specimens represent threatened, endangered, and extinct species, all of which are irreplaceable. These 6 million specimens represent threatened, endangered, and extinct species, all of which are irreplaceable.

To protect this collection and improve physical and virtual accessibility to this critical data resource for researchers, natural resource managers, students, and the public, malacology staff, volunteers and interns are: 1) rehousing specimens in environmentally stable and protective containers and 2) imaging all original specimens from which the species descriptions are based and digitize all collection data so as to make these readily available to the community both in-house and via web-accessible databases. To aid in the development of a new generation of taxonomists and museum researchers, this malacological team is recruiting and training college and high school students to assist with this work and students are receiving training in topics ranging from systematics to curation and museum conservation. Additionally, these researchers and students are participating in outreach activities to increase public understanding of the overall importance of invertebrates in ecosystems and the value of natural history collections to conserving and securing biodiversity.

Specifically, to safeguard against Byne’s and glass disease, all cotton will be removed from the approximately 116,900 glass vials and replaced with polyethylene caps or archival foam. Approximately 5,000 lots with shells housed freely in no-lid boxes will be transferred to polystyrene friction boxes to secure them and prevent disassociation from labels. All labels are currently handwritten and these will be replaced by thermal transfer, acid-free labels with QR codes. Data from the ledger, labels, and other historical documents will be digitized in the in-house database and digital images of Pacific island land snail primary types will be made available online and in type catalog publications. Specimen data and images will be made available through portals such as the National Hub (IDigBio), GBIF, and the current webpage.

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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.

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