Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Sunday, November 7, 1999

FWGNA BS&I Proposal

To the FWGNA group:

On Friday, November 5, our "Phase I" proposal was submitted to the NSF Biotic Surveys and Inventories program. The nine of us on the Editorial Committee (Dillon, Ahlstedt, Brown, Hershler, Johnson, Jokinen, McMahon, Strayer, & Wu) have proposed, for the bargain price of just $650k (3 years), to unify the modern collections of freshwater gastropods currently held in North American museums into a single database accessible through the web. A project summary is appended to this message.

As you are all aware, such an inventory of museum holdings is but a small first step in our ambitious undertaking. Original field surveys and monographic revision will follow. As always, your thoughts and comments are solicited.

We'll keep in touch,

-------[NSF Proposal Summary]--------

The Freshwater Gastropods of North America: Phase I Project Summary

The freshwater snails north of Mexico are a diverse fauna estimated to comprise about 500 species in 15 families. They are the dominant primary consumers in many freshwater ecosystems, regulating producer community structure, controlling periphyton biomass, and serving as a foundation for populations of secondary consumers such as ducks, trout, and other recreationally-important fish. They may serve as environmental indicators, hosts for livestock parasites, or model organisms for physiological, ecological, and evolutionary studies of great generality and importance.

Yet the fauna is endangered. The widespread impoundment and channelization of our nation's rivers in the first half of this century precipitated catastrophic extinctions. At least 38 freshwater snail species endemic to the Mobile Basin disappeared in the 1940's, and the decline continues to the present day due to pollution, siltation, and public works. Although alarming, we think that the present U.S. Federal list of 17 threatened and endangered species and 13 candidate species vastly underestimates the scope of the problem. A modern survey is urgently required.

Here we request support for a large-scale, collaborative inventory of the freshwater gastropods north of Mexico. This project, originated at the World Congress of Malacology in 1998, is an activity of the newly-formed Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society. It involves 71 participants at present, and an Editorial Committee of nine. Phase I, the subject of the present proposal, is a survey and compilation of the modern freshwater gastropod records held in 21 North American museums. This will involve the integration of a variety of currently existing database structures, and new data entry initiatives around the United States and Canada. The unified database, totaling approximately 200,000 lots, will be made available via the World Wide Web, searchable by standard query.

Based on a regional sort of this database, the Editorial Committee will design Phase II of this project, a schedule of original field surveys. Museum data will also be sorted taxonomically and forwarded, along with all fresh field data, to Taxon Editors who will review each species determination.

In the third "Monographic Phase" of the FWGNA project, Taxon Editors will prepare individual "species accounts." These will be collected into both traditional (paper volume) and web-based information products allowing professional biologists of diverse background to identify all elements of the North American freshwater gastropod fauna. An entering wedge will be offered to the systematics, ecology, general biology, and conservation status of each species. Dot maps will be prepared showing actual current distributions. Students will be involved in all aspects of the project. Based on these data, the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society will compile revised and updated lists of threatened species, along with management and recovery options, to forward to natural resources agencies for the purposes of conservation.

Friday, August 20, 1999

FWGNA Committee Named

To the FWGNA:

I am pleased to announce that the following colleagues have agreed to serve on our FWGNA Editorial Committee:
  • Steve Ahlstedt - Eastern Mississippi USGS Knoxville, ahlstedt@usgs.gov
  • Ken Brown - Western Mississippi. Louisiana State University, kmbrown@lsu.edu
  • Rob Dillon - Southern Atlantic College of Charleston, dillonr@cofc.edu
  • Paul Johnson - Eastern Gulf Southeast Aquatic Research Institute, pdj@tennis.org
  • Eileen Jokinen - Great Lakes University of Connecticut, currently in transition
  • Bob McMahon - Western Gulf U. Texas Arlington, r.mcmahon@uta.edu
  • Dave Strayer - Northern Atlantic Inst. Ecosystem Studies, strayerd@ecostudies.org
  • Shi-Kuei Wu - Pacific University of Colorado, skwu@spot.colorado.edu
The members of the Editorial Committee will work with the many regional collectors, collections, and references available to produce a database (in standard format) showing the modern distribution of gastropods in their set of drainages. Development of a joint proposal to the NSF Biotic Surveys and Inventories program is already underway. The names of the members of this committee will ultimately appear on the cover page as editors of the FWGNA volume (or set of volumes) when published.

The Editorial Committee will not be responsible (unless they wish to be!) for identifications. Problematic samples will be forwarded to "Taxon Editors," who will do the identifications, write "species accounts" (on a continental scale), and receive credit for authorship of their sections of the book. Designation of Taxon Editorships have not been made as yet.

Each of the members of the Editorial Committee has, or soon will have, a list of the volunteers in his or her area. I realize that many of us have interests in more than one region, and that some of us (especially you more taxon-oriented folks) may have continental or even world-wide outlooks. We'll have plenty of time to sort through this in the future, as soon as we get funded, if not before.

In the mean time, if any of you would like to contact your editor and introduce yourself, I'm sure this would be appreciated.


Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Minutes 19 Mar 99

To the FWGNA group:

We had a great meeting in Chattanooga last week, thanks to Paul Johnson, Steve Ahlstedt, John Jenkinson, Al Buchanan, and a host of others. I feel re-energized to fight the good fight.

Appended you will find the minutes of our committee meeting Friday afternoon. If those of you who were present will check this account for accuracy and get back to me, I'd appreciate it.

Quite a few details of our project seem to be solidifying. I would encourage all of you to contact me at your convenience regarding the three issues listed in the final paragraph of the minutes. In the mean time, there is no reason to delay any survey work that any of us might wish to do this season.

We'll keep in touch,

--------[begin minutes 19Mar99]--------
FMCS Committee on the Status & Distribution of Gastropods Chattanooga Clarion Hotel Ballroom C March 19, 1999

Attending: Rob Dillon (chair), Amy Wethington (sec.), Ken Brown, Jack Burch, Ryan Evans, Paul Hartfield, Wally Holznagel, Paul Johnson, Chuck Lydeard, Bob McMahon, Russ Minton, Malcolm Pierson, Doug Shelton, Soren Sorensen, Tim Stewart, Charles Watson, Shi-Kuei Wu.

Meeting opened at 4:20 pm.

Paul Hartfield, apologizing that he would be called from the meeting early, opened with a report regarding freshwater gastropod conservation in Alabama. Thousands of records have been taken in the last decade which, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy / Alabama Natural Heritage Program, will be used to produce an Atlas of Mobile Basin gastropods. Efforts are underway to reintroduce the endangered Leptoxis plicata into protected areas. Paul Johnson is working on captive propagation.

Paul Johnson outlined the procedure to be followed by each of the participants in the Special Session on the Biology & Conservation of North American Freshwater Gastropods that preceded this committee meeting. Each author is to offer a list of recommendations which will be combined into a draft "National Conservation Strategy." The papers and the draft strategy will be reviewed in "round robin" fashion, revised, and readied for publication as a unit by the end of the summer. Publication will be separate from the proceedings of the larger meeting. JNABS and J. Shellfish Res. are possible outlets.

Preliminaries thus completed, Rob Dillon welcomed all to this first official meeting of the FMCS Committee on the Status & Distribution of Gastropods. Introductions were made and an attendance sheet circulated.

Rob reviewed the brief history of the "Freshwater Gastropods of North America" project. The project was begun by a group of approximately 20 malacologists meeting in a dormitory lounge on the campus of George Washington University last July. The group was concerned about both the taxonomy and the conservation status of our freshwater gastropod fauna. We agreed that a monographic survey was desirable, and that generous measures of time, money, and manpower would be required. We also talked about approaches to the effort, but no decisions were made.
Since July, progress has been made on three fronts. The FWGNA project has grown from 34 workers to its present size of about 70. The Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society has formed, including the present committee. And some consensus has emerged that the best approach should involve two separate but interrelated tasks.

Task 1, the survey, should be patterned on the FMCS Mussel Atlas project already underway. The organization should be regional, since progress has already been made on a regional basis in New York, Connecticut, Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, and elsewhere. The focus of Task 1 should be modern records. Data should be captured using the format already adopted for the Mussel Atlas (and the Atlas of North American Fishes previously), a system of 25 fields. An attempt will be made to provide FileMaker Pro software to the regional workers, which is easily convertible from Mac to DOS formats. Each worker need only identify gastropod collections to the taxonomic level he feels comfortable. This task would be fundable by the NSF Biotic Surveys and Inventories program.

Task 2, the taxonomic review, will depend upon the survey to some extent. Regional coordinators will forward samples to taxon centers, where identifications will be made and species accounts compiled. A new edition of J. B. Burch's North American Freshwater Snails should facilitate this effort. This task should be fundable through the NSF Systematic Biology programs such as PEET, the project to enhance expertise in taxonomy.

This will be a long-term effort. Chuck Lydeard pointed out that unionid workers have several decades of "head start" over the snail people. Bob McMahon noted that some areas, such as Texas, are very large and convenient to few collectors. Perhaps we should use a format similar to that adopted in Britain, where simple presence is recorded county-by-county. Shi-Kuei Wu noted that several workers together required 7 years to cover Missouri.

On the other hand, large areas can be subdivided into more manageable units. And Bob McMahon noted that the survey will produce a "living" document, which will improve with time, as the attention of future workers is called to under-surveyed areas and poorly-known groups.
Jack Burch noted that specimens collected during Task 1 must be relaxed and preserved in alcohol to be useful to the taxonomists working on Task 2. But the preservation techniques best suited for specimen dissection may not be appropriate for molecular work. A recommendation was made that a standard protocol be developed for collectors.

Concerns regarding the scarcity of trained taxonomists were voiced by many speakers. Paul Johnson felt that the FWGNA project might serve to attract more young scientists to taxonomy, and provide a mechanism by which they could be trained. Bob McMahon noted the ease by which students can be attracted to field work, and from the field work to the science. Ken Brown felt that regional surveys might make ideal Master's theses. Russ Minton observed that the FWGNA project might offer an "entering wedge" for students to expand from the taxonomy of a small group in a small area to larger areas and bigger groups.

Jack Burch promised to identify our Ancylids and Lymnaeids for the next ten years.

Rob Dillon pointed out that accounts of all 500 - 600 species need not be published in a single volume. We may wish to concentrate first on families that don't present such taxonomic difficulties, and/or families of particular conservation importance. In the interim, such challenges as may be associated with the Task 2 taxonomic review need not delay our Task 1 survey.

Ultimately, it seems most likely that editorship of entire volumes will fall to the regional survey coordinators, with taxonomic specialists credited for the authorship of the individual species accounts.

Malcolm Pierson reminisced that when the Alabama surveys were begun, he and his colleagues had very little experience or expertise. But they pooled their resources, planned together, and got started.

Each member of the FWGNA project is encouraged to contact the chair at his or her earliest convenience. Please (1) tell him what region you are willing to survey, compile data on, or otherwise coordinate, and/or what taxon you are willing to review. It would be helpful if each member could also (2) specify as clearly as possible what resources will be necessary to complete the proposed contribution. (3) All workers in this project should feel free to write proposals for funding. Very soon our coordinated efforts to obtain funding on a national level will begin.

Meeting adjourned at 5:40 pm.