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Almost a dozen scientists will gather at Shell Museum for forum

By Staff | May 18, 2016

This monotypic genus is endemic to a single mountain on the island of Oahu, in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Last recorded in 1923 and declining in abundance without notice prior to rediscovery in 2008. Dr. Kenneth Hayes and Dr. Norine W. Yeung, both speakers during the first Mollusks in Peril forum at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, will speak about the importance of snails, specially the species that call Hawaii its home. PHOTO PROVIDED

Dr. Kenneth Hayes, assistant professor for the Department of Biology at Howard University and his wife, Dr. Norine W. Yeung, a malacology researcher at Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, are two of the almost dozen speakers who will help shed light on the smaller, less obvious organisms during the Mollusks in Peril forum at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

“The vast majority of the diversity on the planet is created by smaller, less obvious organisms that play a vital role,” in the ecosystem, Hayes said. “We don’t focus that information on these groups because they are lesser known. They are less funded for research and we train fewer people around these organisms partly because they are poorly funded. We know nothing about 90 percent of the animals on the planet. We don’t have the people to study them.”

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum Science Director & Curator Dr. Jose H. Leal said the main engine behind the Mollusks in Peril conference came from one of their volunteers, Smoky Payson, who provided the initial funding for the program.

“He is very interested in the subject of the current changes that may be affecting mollusks in general. We decided to come up with this title Mollusks in Peril,” Leal said.

Mollusks in Peril will kick off with a sunset cruise with Captiva Cruises on Sunday, May 22. The conference will be held Monday, May 23, and continue on Tuesday, May 24, at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

Endodontidae are Pacific island endemics with more than 200 species known from Hawaii. Of these, only two species are known to be extant. This is the first image of a live adult Cookeconcha hystricella and its one day old offspring making its first steps toward survival. Unless protected, this image may be among the last records of this species. The photograph was taken in 2013 at Oahu, Hawaii. PHOTO BY K.A. HAYES and N.W. YEUNG

To register and for a complete list of presenters and topics, visit www.shellmuseum.org/learn/mollusks-in-peril-forum, or call (239) 395-2233.

Hayes will speak about snails during the forum because they are the most impacted group, with the majority of the species living in the Pacific Islands. He said snails have been around for five million years, taking them through many different climate and ecology changes.

“Snails are one of the few groups that occupy marine, terrestrial and fresh water environment,” Hayes said, adding that mollusks are the second largest group with more than 200,000 species that they know of.

Yeung said these invertebrates, snails, make the world function and are important to culture and science.

“People don’t realize snails have a lot of meaning to a lot of people, to our survival and personal interest,” she said. “We want to save them because they deserve to be saved.”

Hayes speech will focus on the snails that call the Hawaiian islands home to demonstrate the seriousness of the extinction crises and what can be done to help the species.

“Organisms like snails, they are really important for nutrients and healthy eco systems,” Hayes said. “The ground water is no longer filtered (when snails are gone). Instead of slowly trickling through subsystem layers to be purified, it runs off quicker. Snails are really tightly linked to ecosystem services and function.”

Hayes said he has become really passionate about caring for snails, which is why he wanted to participate in the forum. He said they have to reach a broader, more global community to help everyone understand and care about snails in a passionate way.

“Every time there has been a mass extinction, the one that suffers the most are the dominant spices,” Hayes said. “If we don’t alter the course of the changes we set into motion, we are in serious trouble. I am passionate about that. We have to do something about that and have to get a large number of people to care about this.”

The whole idea is to call attention to things that are happening, Leal said through Mollusks in Peril, while at the same time seeing if there are possible, viable solutions to those problems.

“We know this is bad,” Hayes said. “We have to figure out how to get the rest of the world, all the nonscientist, to care and do something about this.”

Yeung said it’s always great to brainstorm with other researchers from all over the country and world to shed light and share techniques to get people to care.

“The more people we can reach, the better it is to save a lot of these snails and mollusks in general,” she said. “We are trying to break down stereotypical barriers. They all deserve a chance to live and they are all important to us personally and scientifically.”

Yeung, who was born and raised in Hawaii said she began working with the snails because she wanted to show the next generation of people that they still have these amazing invertebrates living on the island.

“The majority of these species are only found in Hawaii, so if they are gone, they are gone for good,” she said.

Mollusks in Peril will feature almost a dozen speakers, mostly traveling to the island from the United States. They will provide an hour long presentation followed by panel discussions. Leal said the public is welcome to ask questions and participate.

The remaining featured speakers include:

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Research Curator of Aquatic Invertebrates Dr. Arthur Bogan. He is a malacologist specializing in freshwater mussel taxonomy, distribution, conservation and evolution.;

University of Washington Professor of Biology Dr. Emily Carrington, who bases her research at the Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands. For more than two decades, her focus has been on the mechanical design of marine invertebrates and macroalgae.;

Research Professor Dr. Robert Cowie from the University of Hawaii at Manoa Pacific Biosciences Research Center. His research is based on understanding the sources and determinants of non-marine molluscan diversity.;

Dr. C. Mark Eakin, a coral reef watch coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Satellite Applications and Research. He has published works on such topics as coral reef ecology and the impact of climate change.;

Western Illinois University Professor and Chair of Biological Sciences Dr. Charles Lydeard. His focus is on freshwater mollusks;

University of South Florida College of Marine Sciences Professor of Biological Oceanography Dr. Brad Seibel. He focuses on the physiological response of marine animals to extreme environments, ocean acidification, deoxygenation and warming, polar and deep-sea biology and biology of mollusks.;

Queen’s University Marine Laboratory Associate Professor and Associate Director Dr. Julia Sigwart. She studies the evolution and diversification of mollusks, as well as other marine invertebrates.;

Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Assistant Professor Dr. George Waldbusser. He works on ocean acidification.

Bowdoin College Earth and Oceanographic Science Visiting Assistant Professor Dr. Meredith White. Ocean acidification on bay scallop larval development was the topic of her thesis.

“They are all well-known and working on mollusks conservation for many years,” Leal said.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.