Researchers awarded $650,000 grant to study Hawaiian land snails

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Jul 6, 2011

Photo 1
Photo 1
Photo 2
Photo 2
The National Science Foundation’s Biodiversity Discovery and Analysis program has awarded a $650,000 grant to Dr. Kenneth Hayes and collaborators, Drs. Robert Cowie, Brenden Holland and Norine Yeung, of UH Mānoa’s Center for Conservation Research and Training, part of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC).
The grant supports a project to advance understanding of the biodiversity and conservation status of native land snails in Hawai‘i.  Led by Dr. Hayes, the project involves an international team of land snail experts from the United States (Hawai‘i and Florida), France and New Zealand, and will provide training for two postdoctoral researchers, two graduate students and numerous undergraduates at UH Mānoa.
Land snails help maintain healthy ecosystems, act as indicators of environmental integrity, and have distinctive evolutionary, ecological and cultural legacies that are important in understanding biodiversity. The Hawaiian Islands support a spectacular diversity of land snails, with more than 750 species, comparable to the continental USA and Canada combined. Unfortunately, they have not been comprehensively studied in nearly a century and are vanishing fast. By documenting and identifying the remaining species, assessing their diversity and clarifying their taxonomy and relationships, this project will provide the basis for further study of their biology and conservation in a manner not possible before. Such information is vital to save this biological and cultural legacy.
Although understanding Hawaiian land snail biodiversity and evolution is of great importance, the lack of taxonomic expertise in such groups of snails is a serious problem globally. The ability to assess the severity of the “biodiversity crisis” hinges on addressing the “taxonomic impediment”—the serious lack of experts able to identify and classify organisms. This impediment is felt most seriously in the largest groups of animals on Earth, the invertebrates, and the mollusks in particular. As such, a secondary goal of the project is the training of young scientists to begin alleviating the taxonomic impediment hampering scientific advancement in such diverse animal groups.
For more information or to schedule media interviews, please contact Kenneth Hayes at (808) 956-0956 or
Photos (credit: Dr. Norine W. Yeung):
Photo 1 caption: Rare native Hawaiian land snail, Kaala subrutila, found only in the natural bog habitat on top of Mt. Ka'ala,Waianae Mountains - the highest peak on Oʻahu.
Photo 2 caption: Tornatellides sp., diminutive member of the endangered tree snail family from Kamakou Preserve on the island of Molokaʻi.