The term extinction may accompany discussion of mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, great auks, or other large, once-existing and charismatic species. Methods such as whole genome sequencing combined with the discovery of conserved DNA make biological regeneration efforts more plausible than ever.
When surviving mammals, birds, and other large species face extinction or break the news while scientists get one step closer to reviving their extinct cousins, many rally to support them. But despite the ecological contribution, invertebrates are often overlooked.
Invertebrates make up the majority of animal diversity on Earth, but are dangerously underrepresented in biodiversity studies. Several estimates place that about 90% of the 750 land snail species that once existed on the Hawaiian Islands are threatened with extinction.
A 2018 paper published by Bishop Museum scientists documented more species than the 200 species already present, but there is a need to continue to assess and monitor these populations.
The colonization of the Hawaiian Islands by foreign powers led to constant competition for Hawaiian flora and fauna. Endemic Hawaiian snails have been preyed upon by habitat loss, rats, and other introduced gastropods, primarily the carnivorous pink wolf (Euglandina rosea).
Ranging in length from 5 to 70 millimeters and ranging in color from rainbow to beige, these endemic air slugs can live for over a decade. First described by taxonomists in 1868, Auriculella uniplicata was one such land snail species endemic to the Hawaiian island of Maui and was last seen in 1946.
Loss of culture is often followed by loss of species, as many indigenous groups use and attach great importance to plants and animals. Kahuli, the Hawaiian name for the land snail, was used to make traditional lei and was often featured at old fairs. The one with the most modern arrangement is called kahuli aku kahuli mai, referring to a relationship between kahuli, kulia bird (Pluvialis fulva) and Achilia fern (Atherium microphyllum).
Tree-dwelling Hawaiian tree snails show distinct variations in color and pattern. The holotype, the specimen officially representing the species, is on the left. Kenneth Hayes and Norin Yeung/Florida Museum
Hawaiian fairs and hula also refer to ka leo o’s kahuli, the sound of tree snails that could be heard “singing” or “chirping” in the evening after the rain while they fed on the fungus of the leaves. The absence of this phenomenon today is most easily explained by the rapid population decline.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for a species going extinct is the return of the ecosystem services they provide. In addition to providing food for native bird populations threatened with decline and extinction, Hawaiian land snails also feed on fungi that grow on the leaves of native plants.
Grazing by native snails reduces fungal abundance, protects host trees from disease, and increases fungal diversity as the snails spread these leaf-dwelling fungi through their droppings.
Given that unwanted fungal growth is a barrier to the reproduction and maintenance of native and endemic Hawaiian plant species, as is the case with the fungal pathogen responsible for rapid Ohia death, these tree snails are an important factor in this endeavor . Introduce yourself as a potential partner. The coincidence of these two restoration efforts may show promising results given the millennia of mutuality between endemic plants and snails.
high level of endemism
Of course, there are legitimate ethical concerns about the extinction of the Hawaiian snail, particularly when the goal is a return to pre-colonial population levels. This would mean eliminating rats and other invasive snails, and suppressing suburban and commercial development on the islands to prevent further habitat loss. This poses a problem for rats and alien snails, as it is necessary to recognize the intrinsic worth of all species, even when championing a particular one.
Given the high level of endemism for these airborne snails, and the fact that global populations of rats and non-native snails would be largely unaffected by eradication, the scales appear to be tilting in favor of snail rights. Similar considerations can be made for humans: as a species, it would be wise to examine our “right” to uncontrolled growth and access to the environment.
Invertebrates make up the majority of animal diversity on Earth, but are dangerously underrepresented in biodiversity studies.
Eradication efforts for the Hawaiian tree snail can increase public awareness of this and other small, “unethical,” and often overlooked species. As the old Hawaiian faire about the singing Kahuli shows, oral history can inform us of the existence of ecological processes that are unknown or have not yet been described by a scientific framework. The discovery of such processes, which can provide new insights for science, is only possible through resettlement, here the extermination and further promotion of these species takes place.
While the term rural ethics was coined by the late American author, philosopher, and environmentalist Aldo Leopold, it is the very principle that kept indigenous communities free of industrial aid for millennia. This morality was deeply ingrained in Hawaiian culture and is expressed on the Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Hawaii: “The life of the land shall be upheld with righteousness.”
Country life was also aided by the presence of ‘oha wai (Clermontia pelena), ‘alala (Corvus hawaiensis) and kahuli. In defense of these and other attempts at annihilation, this religiosity is mentioned, which can be no less than a moral imperative.
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