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Posts Tagged ‘snail’

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Photo: Rebecca Kordas/UBC
Limpets are easy to overlook — so too is their effect on the environment. But careful consideration of how all the life forms in an area interact is key to understanding how ecosystems thrive.

I’ve been reading a small book called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. A friend offered to lend it to me, and much to my surprise, I’m finding it fascinating. It’s by a woman with a debilitating illness who describes her growing interest in a snail brought to her on a wild violet plant. As the author learns, there is more to snails than meets the eye. A lot more.

The same may be said of limpets. Christopher Pollon explains why at Hakai Magazine.

“As the ocean temperature rises, it may be the little things that make the biggest difference to the survival and resilience of living things.

“Take the limpet, a tiny snail-like gastropod with a hefty appetite for the minute plants that live in the intertidal — the space between low and high tide. In 2014, Becca Kordas, then a zoology doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, tested the effect these creatures have on the ecosystem when exposed to ocean warming. She found that their influence was huge.

“Kordas launched her project by sinking four sets of settlement plates in the intertidal zone of Saltspring Island, British Columbia, about 55 kilometers southwest of Vancouver. For 16 months, Kordas and her colleagues tracked which plants and animals established themselves on the four different types of plots. Kordas controlled the limpets’ access to half of the plates, while they were free to graze on the other half. She also simulated the effects of ocean warming by tinting some of the plates black to attract the sun’s heat.

“By the end of the study, the differences between the four sets of plates were stark. Kordas found that when limpets’ access is restricted, the artificially warmed intertidal ecosystem collapsed — the diversity of life largely replaced by a mat of microalgae. Limpets with access to the plates, however, maintained a healthier ecological community, even in a warming environment.

“What is it about limpets that helps maintain a diverse and complex community, even when their environment warms?

“Kordas says limpets eat huge amounts of microalgae, including microscopic diatoms and the spores of larger algal species. This clears the terrain for a variety of life.

“ ‘When limpets are allowed in, they make space for things like barnacles, and then those barnacles in turn create little condos for other animals to live in,’ she says.

“In a sense, limpets are tiny ecosystem engineers. … The study comes at a critical time for intertidal life in the northeast Pacific Ocean. In this area, the summer low tide typically occurs around noon, which exposes intertidal species to warm summer temperatures. The heat shakes up the intertidal community, but shakes it up more without limpets around.

“The lesson of Kordas’s study, however, is not about limpets per se. It’s about the need to better understand the role of every organism in an ecosystem.”

Hat tip: Pablo Rodas-Martini, @pablorodas, on Twitter.

More here.

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… turn them into escargots.

Lalita Clozel has a great story at the NY Times today about snails that nobody wanted.

She writes, “On this storm-weathered tip of Mont Saint-Michel Bay, the sweeping tides have washed away the line between land and sea. Fishermen drive their wheeled boats straight into the bay to gather their harvest: an assortment of shellfish prized all over France.

“But now they are finding their nets weighed down by an invasive species: the crépidule, or Atlantic slipper shell, a curious type of sea snail that has spread from the East Coast of the United States.

“Oyster and mussel producers here have watched helplessly as the colony has taken over their beautiful bay, flush with phytoplankton, the micro-organisms that make it a haven for all manner of shellfish and tint the water turquoise.

“Enter Pierrick Clément, a local entrepreneur who looked at the encroaching Atlantic slipper shell and asked an unthinkable question in a town that has built its livelihood on bountiful seafood: Would people eat the insidious creature?

“ ‘As a businessman, I see an opportunity here,’ he said. …

“The community of Cancale now finds itself torn between disgust and relief at Mr. Clément’s project to fish and sell the sea snails for consumption.

“After years of administrative haggling, he has coaxed local municipalities and producers to back his project and begin a campaign to rehabilitate the snail’s image. …

“His pilot factory, among the bustling oyster plants in nearby Le Vivier-sur-mer, ships to a few stores and restaurants in France, Spain and Germany.

“Eventually he hopes to process as much as 100,000 tons of slipper shells per year — enough to offset their growth in the bays.” More here.

This entrepreneur’s adaptability fits with what my father used to say about the French secret of beauty. It was along the lines of Feature what you’ve got.

“If you have a big nose,” he said, “hang a beer can on it.”

Photo: Catalina Martin-Chico for The New York Times

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