Eastern Australian land snails – their identification, diversity and conservation

9th – 10th December, 2006

Eastern Australia has an exceptionally rich land snail fauna with over 1,500 species known as a conservative estimate. Despite this wealth and diversity of snail species, we still know very little about this largely cryptic fauna. With such a speciose fauna occurring in the most heavily populated region in Australia, conservation issues have arisen over conflicts of land use and habitat management.

This workshop, presented by Dr John Stanisic and Mr Michael Shea, presented the following topics:

  • An introduction and overview of the land snail groups in Eastern Australia (both native and exotic).
  • Habitats, ecology and biology of Australian snails with an emphasis on areas of high land snail diversity – ‘hotspots’ of evolution such as limestone outcrops, rainforests, islands etc.
  • Snails as environmental indicators – how snails are affected by changes in climate and by the affects of human activity (land clearance, increasing fire frequency, introduced species etc.)
  • Where to look for land snails, collecting methods and preservation techniques. Some ‘hands on’ work will involve sorting leaf litter samples for snails from the local Illawarra area.
  • An introduction to identifying species within land snail groups using particular diagnostic characters. Many species have similar shell shapes and identification can prove difficult and confusing – examples from most families will be shown and compared. Examples sorted from the leaf litter samples will be identified using these characters.
  • Because most species have never been formally described in scientific publications, a surrogate classification system had to be devised which roughly sorted and categorised this large number of nameless taxa based on bioregional  codes. This will be discussed and evaluated.
  • The importance of museum collections and photographic databases in identifying species – collections are historical archives of information which can show changes in faunas and species distributions over time. Modern photographic techniques such as S.E.M. and computer photomontage microscope photography can now make comparison and identification of minute species much easier.
  • Molecular phylogeography of land snails – the importance of DNA comparisons in determining evolutionary paths and family/genus/species lineages.
  • Conservation issues concerning habitat destruction and the increasing importance of habitat restoration and rehabilitation. How do we make authorities and the general population become aware of snails and their conservation.