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Mollusks in Peril forum shed light on diverse species

By Staff | Jun 1, 2016

Mollusks in Peril gathered scientists and researchers across the world, as well as many interested individuals who wanted to learn more about the species during the inaugural forum at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. PHOTO PROVIDED

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum invited almost a dozen scientists to a two-day forum that was open to the public last week. The event kicked off with a sunset cruise with Captiva Cruises, followed by two full days of speakers sharing their research on various mollusks.

The first day, Monday, May 23, the forum opened with a welcome from Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman, followed by announcements by Science Director and Curator Jose H. Leal. The forum was broken down into two sessions with the first featuring three speakers and a panel discussion.

Such topics as “what do we know about mollusk extinctions,” “Pacific Island land snail conservation: case studies from the Hawaiian islands” and “to know is to care: stemming the decline of mollusks and malacologists” were discussed.

The second Monday session included “freshwater mollusks in peril” and “hidden diversity in plain sight: delimiting species boundaries in freshwater mollusks.”

Brad Seibel, a professor of biological oceanography at the University of South Florida, kicked off the second day of the Mollusks in Peril forum by sharing information regarding pelagic mollusks and climate induced threats to the species.

“The threats you are all familiar with when you think of climate change, we are mostly talking about global warming and increasing temperatures throughout the planet, including surface water of the ocean. Ocean acidification has become part of the main stream discussion as well,” he said. “That is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that is what is causing the temperatures to rise and also diffusing into the ocean, where it increases the acidity and the pH goes down decreasing surface waters. As it becomes more acidic it dissolves calcium carbonate, mollusks shells, as well as corals.”

Seibel also touched upon that the ocean is becoming less oxygenated as well. He said there are reasons oxygen should decline because warmer water holds less dissolved gas.

The professor shared information about his research, which is the study of animals that live out in the open ocean in natural low oxygen zones.

“Very few people ever get to see the animals that I study,” Seibel said.

One of the species that he has studied are the gymnosomata, otherwise known as sea angels, or naked pteropods.

“With pteropods we have very successful changed the public’s perception from absolutely no idea what those are to oh my gosh pteropods are gone and the whole world is going to fall apart,” Seibel said. “When I started working with pteropods I was interested in how they adapt to cold temperatures in the Antarctic. They are responsible for all the livelihoods of all fish and whales.”

He shared how he finds the various pteropods to study during his lecture. The team goes out to the open ocean with a bottom depth of 1,000s of meters below. Seibel said they are all tethered together holding jars to collect the species.

His 45-minute speech shared a great deal of information on the data collected through his research, as well as some of the pteropods found in the open ocean. Seibel said the information collected helps in predicting their geographic and depth distribution.

Julia Sigwart, associate professor and associate director of the marine laboratory at Queen’s University, was the second speaker last Tuesday. She discussed deep sea animals, which mainly touched upon scaly-foot gastropods.

Sigwart said the scaly-foot gastropods only live in hydrothermal vents. She said the vents have natural volcanic fluids and minerals that come up through black smokers creating a diverse environment.

“The magma from the inside of the earth is coming very close to the surface and seeping up through the sea floor. The water seeps up through the sea floor and rises up through these tiny channels. It’s basically just a volcano coming up through the earth’s crust,” Sigwart said. “These areas are very small. They are absolutely tiny. This is the size of a football field. They are actually really hard to find.”

She said most of the hydrothermal vents have not been found.

Sigwart shared information about how she researches the scaly-foot gastropods in their natural habitat, as well as the equipment they use.

The remaining lectures included “mussel attachment in a warmer, higher CO2 world;” “climate change and ocean acidification endanger coral reefs and mollusks;” “impacts of coastal acidification on early larval growth and development of bay scallops” and “ocean acidification threats to seashells at the beginning and end of life for marine bivalves.”

Hipschman said that the premise of the forum is to say “we can’t fix it if we don’t know about it.” She said if they want people to take action, the action has to be scientifically based.

“It is our responsibility as a museum to help ground these conversations in the best possible science from the people that are doing the most current work,” Hipschman said in a April interview with the Islander. “Whether the people at the forum agree, or disagree with us, at least we are starting from the best possible data.”

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