Pestilence Update

George is dead and his species likely extinct

 

George is dead and his species likely extinct

Mark Kaufman. Mashable•January 8, 2019

A one-inch Hawaiian snail is dead, and his species is likely gone forever. 

The New Year’s Day death of the small, 14-year-old snail, named George by Hawaiian scientists, is yet another blow to the native Hawaiian ecosystem, which as the most isolated group of islands on the planet contains species found nowhere else.

But overexploitation, invasive predators, and climate change are continuously knocking out the critters here. And it’s happening fast.

“We’re witnessing complete extirpations at a rate that’s pretty remarkable,” David Sischo, the snail extinction prevention program coordinator at the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, said in an interview.

“Our staff has broken down and cried in the field before,” said Sischo. “They’re not going extinct tomorrow — it’s happening now.”

A total of 752 land snail species have been identified in Hawaii, covering a range of 10 families. But in each family, between 60 to 90 percent of the species are now extinct.

George’s species, Achatinella apexfulva, was one of hundreds that evolved on these once inaccessible Pacific Islands. The idea is that a snail species — perhaps brought by wayward birds or floating debris — found its way to the Hawaiian island ages ago. Since then, the species flourished in diversity across Hawaii’s hugely varied forests and elevations.

“Think of the process as something like a spectacular firework — one inconspicuous, lucky species travels an outrageous distance and then explodes into a breathtaking diversity of color or form,” Sea McKeon, a biology professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and co-host of The Naturalist Podcast, said over email. “George’s lineage of landsnails is one of these fireworks, and ‘his’ death is the most recent loss in a long series of human-induced extinctions.”

(Note: Most snails are hermaphrodites, so George is not actually male as he naturally has both female and male sex organs.)

“Our world is slowly becoming less colorful, less vibrant with each loss, and only a few people are in a position to appreciate it,” McKeon added

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