Brazilian biodiversity

Salvador just published an analytical paper on the diversity of Brazilian land snails.

Brazil is a megadiverse country for many (if not most) animal taxa, harboring a signifi- cant portion of Earth’s biodiversity. Still, the Brazilian land snail fauna is not that diverse at first sight, comprising around 700 native species. Most of these species were described by European and North American naturalists based on material obtained during 19th-century expeditions. Early 20th century malacologists, like Philadelphia-based Henry A. Pilsbry (1862–1957), also made remarkable contributions to the study of land snails in the country. From that point onwards, however, there was relatively little interest in Brazilian land snails until very recently. The last decade sparked a renewed enthusiasm in this branch of malacology, and over 50 new Brazilian species were revealed. An astounding portion of the known species (circa 45%) presently belongs to the superfamily Orthalicoidea, a group of mostly tree snails with typically large and colorful shells. It has thus been argued that the missing majority would be comprised of inconspicuous microgastropods that live in the undergrowth. In fact, several of the species discovered in the last decade belong to these “low-profile” groups and many come from scarcely studied regions or environments, such as caverns and islands. These places still undoubtedly hide many surprises for malacologists and there is still a long way to go until we have a good understanding of the terrestrial gastropod fauna in Brazil. The science behind this venture, however, is still underfunded and moving at a snail’s pace. This is especially unsettling, as land snails are deemed one of the animal groups most vulnerable to extinction, and the overly-exploited natural environments in Brazil might not last long, especially considering the country’s recent environmentally harmful policies.

Schermafbeelding 2019-11-11 om 10.15.35

It is clear that the Brazilian malacologists community is the most active one on the continent with regard to the group under discussion. My feeling is that, especially in the Andean countries, intensified research could bring much more novelties to light. Given the practical limitations following the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol, field work and anatomical and molecular studies have become impossible. This has serious consequences for modern systematic research. At the same time some journals even do no want to publish now a taxonomic paper without molecular data! It is time that local authorities and malacologists become aware of the need to further the application of modern taxonomic techniques (DNA, CT-scanning) and facilitate the necessary field work for it. They should either become active themselves or co-operate with foreign malacologists that can supply these modern techniques. There are enough signs already of a biodiversity crisis emerging to take urgent action!

Salvador, R.B., 2019. Land snail diversity in Brazil. Strombus, 25: 10-20.

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