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Snails’ pace is a survival danger

19 Medi 2007

Snails are not known for their high speed, but like all animals they must move around to find food, mates and suitable places to live.

Now, ecologists in the School of Biosciences have shown how the inability of some endangered snails to spread between locations is seriously affecting their survival in Britain.

The Shining ram’s horn, the Little whirlpool ram’s horn and the Large-mouthed valve snail are three of Europe’s rarest snails, living in drainage ditches on wet grasslands. Smaller than a little fingernail, all three have declined dramatically over recent decades as their habitat has been lost, damaged or polluted.

Working on several protected marshlands in south-eastern England, including Pevensey Levels and the Arun Valley, the researchers found unexpected gaps in the snails’ range that were more frequent at larger distances from occupied sites. Even the most desirable snail locations were sometimes unoccupied.

Professor Steve Ormerod, of Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, who led the work, described the finding as a "critical breakthrough in snail conservation."

"We knew already the snails were affected by being fussy about certain conditions, and by problems in wetland management This new work shows that dispersal between remaining habitats is also a major constraint: these snails now need help to get around," he said.

Dr Isabelle Durance, another member of the Cardiff team, added: "Natural habitats increasingly form a tattered and changing patchwork, and animals must reach habitats in which they can survive. With their snail-paced movement in a fast-changing world, these species epitomise a larger conservation problem."