Is the Aldabra Banded Snail the First Global Warming Related Extinction?

With news of various species going or likely to go extinct cropping up left and right, one might be forgiven for giving short shrift to news of yet another extinction — especially that of a small purple snail species on the other side of the world. Yet what makes this particular extinction unique is that it may very well be the first tied directly to global warming, according to Oxford University biologist Justin Gerlach.

This purple snail — the Aldabra banded snail — is a resident of the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean and is easily recognizable because of its conspicuous purplish blue shell. Though it was once easy to find 3 decades ago, Gerlach says that now "it has been impossible to find. The last one was found in 1997 and it was collected simply because the person who collected it thought it was strange and didn't know what it was." Gerlach believes the species went extinct during the late 1990s following a series of unusually long and hot summers that killed off a large number of younger snails.He reached this conclusion after observing that the smaller shells once commonly picked up by collectors were vanishing with the advent of the longer, hotter summers — a phenomenon he attributes to global warming. If his intuition is correct, that would make the Aldabra banded snail the first climate change related casualty.

And, as Diane Debinski — a biologist at Iowa State University who researches the links between climate change and extinctions — grimly observed, it certainly won't be the last: "I think what we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg in terms of extinction events. I expect that we're going to be seeing more stories like this." While she isn't convinced that global warming was to blame for the banded snail's extinction, she does admit that most research has demonstrated that the most vulnerable species tend to reside in isolated habitats — such as islands or mountain tops.

Which means that this extinction could be just the tip of the iceberg...

Via ::NPR All Things Considered: Purple Snail May Be Climate Change Casualty (radio program)

See also: ::Caribbean Corals Heading Towards Extinction?, ::South Indian Fish Stocks Threatened by Climate Change, Human Development
Image courtesy of Beachy via flickr (NOTE: snail pictured is not Aldabra banded snail)

Tags: Extinction

Best of TreeHugger