Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Report from Charleston

I'm pleased to report that freshwater gastropodswere the marquee attraction at the 68th meeting of the American Malacological Society in Charleston last month. The scientific sessions commenced Sunday morning August 4 with a pair of plenary addresses on our favorite animals: Amy Wethington reminding us what marvelous models freshwater snails may be to address scientific questions of great generality, and Ken Brown & Paul Johnson highlighting their presently imperiled status.

These talks segued smoothly into the featured symposium of AMS 2002: "The Biology and Conservation of Freshwater Gastropods," a program of 15 talks ranging broadly across the ecology, evolution, and genetics of snails from Alberta to Zambia. Speakers included John Alderman, Art Bogan, Rob Guralnick, Matthias Glaubrecht, Steve Johnson, Eileen Jokinen, Chuck Lydeard, Bob McMahon, Doug Shelton, Jon Todd, Tim Stewart, Brian Watson, and others. The symposium was designed to build toward a meeting of the Freshwater Gastropods of North America project Sunday evening.

Minutes of that eventful gathering are appended below. If those of you who were present notice any additions or corrections to these minutes, please let me know. The bottom line from the Sunday evening meeting can be summed up in one word, however - decentralization.

The celebration of freshwater gastropods continued through AMS conference. There were seven contributed talks and ten poster presentations on freshwater snails Monday afternoon. And Tuesday August 6 featured a special session, organized by Amy Wethington, entitled "Pulmonates in the Laboratory." The eight invited presentations primarily involved Physa and Biomphalaria and focused on behavioral, morphological, and genetic questions.

A good time was had by all. For more details, the Program and Abstracts of all presentations at the Charleston meeting should be available soon as a PDF file from the AMS website:

Plans are currently in the works for a special issue of the American Malacological Bulletin featuring the freshwater gastropod talks given at AMS 2002. So keep in touch, everybody!

----[Minutes of the FWGNA Meeting 4Aug02]-----
Lightsey Conference Center, College of Charleston

Attending: Brian Watson, John Alderman, Jacquie Lee, William S. Rabert, Matthew Campbell, David Campbell, Lyle Campbell, Sarah Campbell, Kevin Cummings, Tom Watters, Scott Martin, Gary Rosenburg, Tom McCarthy, Beth Davis, Susan Bandoni Muench, Thomas Smith, Joseph Hartman, Eugene P. Keferl, Kathryn “Ellie” Sukkestad, Ken Brown, Andy Turner, Tim Stewart, Jay Cordeiro, Bob McMahon, Chuck Lydeard, Amy Wethington (Secretary).

Meeting convened at 7:00 pm by R. T. Dillon, chair.

The meeting opened with a presentation by Jay Cordeiro of NatureServe. NatureServe employs ecologists and contract specialists to identify, preserve, and protect biodiversity. All 50 states of the U.S., 10 Canadian provinces, and 12 LAC countries have agreed to share data. It maintains the “heritage status” (rarity and richness data) for an extensive list of organisms from the United States and Canada, with which it identifies potentially imperiled species and biodiversity “hot spots.” Its web site (www.natureserve.org ) features a database “Explorer” which is a rapid and easy tool for retrieving conservation information.

Discussion followed regarding the method by which heritage ranks may be revised or updated. There are a variety of different systems to convey conservation status. Heritage ranks are controlled by the states and can be different from global ranks if states disagree. NatureServe may list two rankings if there is a difference between a Heritage Rank and a Global Rank. The best way bring about a revision would be to contact states through their relevant offices directly.

There were questions regarding the reliability of the database upon which heritage ranks rest. The NatureServe data are based on published reports and museum records, which admittedly may be old and incomplete. NatureServe updates its information three times a year from each State’s Heritage data. But without question, new data on all species are welcome at any time. There is a mechanism on the website for the public to submit information directly to NatureServe. Regarding nomenclatural standards, usually a standardized source is used, such as Turgeon et al.

The chair thanked Jay for his contribution and moved to a slide presentation reviewing the history of the FWGNA project. Landmark dates have included the 7/98 establishment of the project at the World Congress of Malacology in Washington, the 11/98 formation of a gastropod committee within the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society, the 3/99 second meeting in Chattanooga, and the 3/01 third meeting in Pittsburgh. Some detail was offered regarding the NSF proposals of 11/99 and 11/00, which involved a large number of collaborators, and which ultimately were less than successful.

The large, centralized effort has proven difficult to jumpstart. Meanwhile, the symposium just completed has featured reports regarding successful local freshwater gastropod surveys ongoing in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi.

These considerations led the chair to offer a New Model for the FWGNA project. The talking points were as follows. (1) The effort should be decentralized. (2) Politically boundaries do matter. (3) Modern data are critical. (4) Local funding sources are important. (5) Central coordination should be at the database level.

The chair suggested that regionally-based individuals and small teams might be best positioned to conduct our inventory of the North American freshwater gastropods. Regional efforts might involve reviews of previously published reports, museum records, and state agency data, as well as the design of new surveys. State and regional funding should be sought, voucher specimens (in ethanol) deposited locally, and reports designed primarily to suit the needs of the resource agencies focused on particular watersheds and political boundaries. But in conjunction with these decentralized efforts, workers might send their databases in some standard format to a central office. And the central office might both coordinate with NatureServe, and (ultimately) compile a guidebook to the freshwater gastropods at the continental level.

Regarding identification problems, each worker should simply do his best with the references currently available. As long as voucher specimens are deposited in publicly available collections, any errors can ultimately be remedied.

The projected guidebook to the freshwater snails of North America should have nice illustrations and be easy to use. Since this work would not be intended as a scientific monograph, distribution maps might be offered at the continental scale and show only low resolution. The work would be multiauthored, including anyone with a significant contribution of data, with proceeds from the sale going to the FMCS.

A lively discussion followed the chair’s presentation. There was debate regarding whether the projected guidebook should feature broad ranges or more precise dots. Although dot-maps are certainly more helpful for management, concern was expressed that endangered species might become vulnerable to overcollection. Perhaps our mapping units should be HUCs, or counties, or dots 20 miles wide. It was suggested that detailed data might be reserved for the agencies, which could then regulate its dissemination. Amateur collectors are not the enemy, however.

There was also discussion regarding funding sources. In the last couple years, federal and state support for biotic surveys has become more difficult to obtain. One option is to design surveys that involve specialists in all freshwater taxa, not simply the gastropods. J. Alderman suggested a “King’s Challenge” mechanism, where large private benefactors might be interested in biodiversity surveys.

Noting the lateness of the hour (8:30 pm) the Chair turned the floor over to Gary Rosenberg (AMS Systematics Committee), for a review and discussion of database standards in systematic collections. As he did so, he made this final plea:

Any worker willing to survey his local freshwater gastropod fauna is encouraged to email Rob Dillon. Then do it! Don’t make me come over there.