Robert H. Cowie


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The over-arching theme of my research is to understand the origins and determinants of Pacific biodiversity, both native and alien. Systematics provides the essential framework and conservation underlies all aspects of the research, which integrates a range of subdisciplines and approaches, including taxonomy, phylogenetics, genetic diversity, biogeography, invasion biology, and ecology. DNA sequencing and cladistic analyses are important techniques in much of this research.

My research has been supported by NSF and other granting agencies and has generated numerous publications, many in top-ranked journals (e.g., Evolution, American Naturalist). My work focuses primarily on non-marine snails (land and freshwater). The advantages of using snails are that 1) they are diverse in the Pacific but not unmanageably so; 2) they are relatively sedentary and thus easily collected and sampled accurately; 3) much of the inter- and intra-specific variation manifested by them is readily recorded by simple methods; 4) the shell remains intact for a considerable time in the field after the animal has died; and 5) there are immense and well-documented museum collections from throughout the Pacific basin going back over a century, including alcohol preserved specimens from which DNA can be extracted.

The four main focuses are as follows:

Understanding the ecological determinants and evolutionary origins of the immense native Pacific island diversity.
Current projects: Nomenclature, systematics, phylogenetics, biogoegraphy, and origins of succineid land snails throughout the Pacific. Genetic diversity and phylogeography of Hawaiian Succineidae. Phylogenetics of achatinellid land snails, primarily focused on Hawaii, and including obtaining DNA sequences from extinct species.
Documenting the spread and impacts, understanding the invasion dynamics, and ascertaining the origins, both phylogentic and anthropogenic, of alien species, primarily in the Pacific.
Current projects: Systematics, phylogenetics, biogeography, and origins of South American ampullariid snails ('apple snails'). Diversity of invasive ampullariids in south-east Asia. Ampullariid snails as model invaders. Molecular and morphological diversity of invasive subulinid land snails in Hawaii. Distribution and impacts of alien snails in Hawaii, especially the role of the horticultural industry in their spread.
Ecology and behavior of native Pacific island land snails and the alien predatory snail and flatworm species that threaten them.
Current projects: Feeding and habitat preferences of the invasive predatory snails Euglandina rosea and Oxychilus alliarius in Hawaii. Impacts of invasive predatory flatworms on native land snails in the Pacific. Ecosystem services provided by land snails in Hawaii.
Eosinophillic meningoencephalitis in Hawaii.
Current project: Geographic distribution of rat lungworm and its prevalence in native and alien snail/slug vectors in Hawaii.


Last update: 15 October 2010