The American Malacological Society met with Unitas Malacologia in Vienna, Austria, August 19 - 25 in what might fairly be counted as the second "World Congress of Malacology." The following is a brief recap, from the special standpoint of the Freshwater Gastropods of North America project.
I understand that The Congress attracted somewhere around 400 - 500 registrants, and that a roughly equivalent number of papers and posters were presented. The North American turnout was a bit light (perhaps only 70 - 80) almost certainly due to the lateness of the season - school starts in late August for many of us on this side of the Atlantic. But I enjoyed meeting the host of workers from South America, Asia, and Africa, whom one would ordinarily not encounter at functions in the USA.
The five symposia organized for this meeting included one that will be of particular interest to the members of our group. Ian Killeen (Felixtowe, UK) and Mary Seddon (National Museum of Wales) organized a session entitled "Molluscan Conservation & Biodiversity" that included a keynote address, seven 20-minute symposium presentations, and twenty 15-minute "satellite" talks distributed over three days.
The keynote was offered by Mr. Tony Whitten, Senior Biodiversity Specialist for the World Bank, who asked rhetorically, "Malacologists: What are your priorities?" His premises were that (1) there is a global biodiversity crisis, and that (2) there has never been more money available for biodiversity conservation from governments, foundations, conservation NGOs, multi-lateral agencies, and even the private sector. He then asked, "Where is the Snail Defense League? Where are the expeditions to undercollected areas? Where is the development of human resources in the malacologically-richest countries? Where are the coordinated efforts to get funds?" The implication seemed to be that we malacologists are all too busy making phylogenetic trees to notice that those little bags of character states or DNA we're trying to classifying are disappearing before our eyes.
Mr. Whitten's remarks were good-natured, and sweetened with lots of humor, and I don't think anybody in the room took offense. He does have a point. However, I take this opportunity to call Mr. Whitten's attention to the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society: http://ellipse.inhs.uiuc.edu/FMCS/ and to the 110 members of its "Snail Defense League" listed above. We've been "developing human resources" and mounting "coordinated efforts to get funds" for "expeditions to undercollected areas" since 1998, and have yet to find a single dollar of support. Perhaps this is my failing. Might Mr. Whitten be available to consult?
The main symposium presentations were as follows:
- Winston Ponder - The research vs. conservation dilemma (Australian examples)
- R.A.D. Cameron - Species/area in land snails
- Philippe Bouchet - Marine Indo-Pacific diversity
- Rob Cowie - Alien invasions (focus on Pacific island land snails)
- Dick Neves - Propagation of North American unionids
- Joe Heller - Using GIS on land snails in Israel
- Thierry Backeljau - Genetics & conservation
The primary concern, both in the main symposium presentations and in the "satellite" sessions that followed, seemed to be land snail conservation, with the unionaceans (especially Margaritifera) running a respectable second and marine faunas third. Freshwater gastropods came to the fore only in a presentation by Ioan Sirbu (Lucian Blaga University, Romania) on the severe human impacts suffered by the freshwaters of Transylvania and Banat. Among 51 gastropod and 22 bivalve species, 25 appear on the author's personal "Red List."
I don't intend to fuss about the relative absence of freshwater gastropods from this particular part of the Vienna program. I think the symposium as organized by Killeen and Seddon offered a fair reflection of world conservation consciousness as it flickers briefly upon the Mollusca.
There were plenty of papers and posters dealing with freshwater gastropods in the general sessions*. The symposium on the endemic molluscan faunas of the ancient lakes organized by Frank Wesselingh and Ellinor Michel was excellent. The program for the entire congress may be viewed at: http://www.univie.ac.at/WCM2001/ All the abstracts will also be published at the address above, organized alphabetically by author. (Currently authors A - E are on line, others "will follow in a few days.")
Thanks are due to the organizers of The Congress, especially Gerhard Steiner and Luitfried Salvini-Plawen of the University of Vienna, for their efforts in bringing a marvelous conference to fruition.
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*However, I think Amy Wethington and I offered the only two presentations specifically featuring North American freshwater gastropods. We reported that Physa heterostropha, Physa integra, and Physa acuta are all the same species. Our manuscript is currently in review at Invertebrate Biology.