Save the Snails

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In the animal kingdom, molluscs are the second-largest phylum after arthropods, comprising around 100,000 species, including 40,000 fossil species and 60,000 living species. Snails belong to the group of lunged gastropods, which are terrestrial molluscs that lack gills but possess a lung structure, enabling them to inhabit terrestrial environments.

The Problem

Like many other animal and plant species, snails have been severely affected by human activities. Various factors have contributed to their decline: the use of harmful pesticides, widespread urbanisation, regulation of riverbanks, uncontrolled water extraction, and the introduction of alien species have all led to the gradual destruction of their habitats.

In some instances, natural disasters, climate change, and collection for various purposes have further worsened the situation.

Environmental Consequences

Snails play an important role in the forest decomposition process and have also been observed feeding on droppings and carcasses of other animals.

In addition, through their decomposing bodies, shells (a source of calcium) and their droppings enrich the soil with valuable substances.

Snails are part of the diet of various animals, including invertebrates such as beetles and their larvae, millipedes, flies, mites, nematodes, and other snails. They are also consumed by vertebrates, including shrews, mice, squirrels, and other small mammals; salamanders, toads, turtles, and birds, particularly ground-foragers such as thrushes, grouse, blackbirds, and wild turkeys1.

Some snails feed on fungi, enabling the dispersal of fungal spores in some cases.

Therefore, their disappearance or the decline of their populations can lead to negative knock-on effects in various natural ecosystems.

Possible Solutions

To save endangered and threatened snail species, multiple actions need to be taken. First, it is necessary to ensure the natural cycle of reproduction and propagation of snails by conserving their current habitats.

This can be achieved by adopting environmentally friendly industrialization, urbanization, and agriculture policies and strategies, especially concerning the snail population. Habitat restoration through constructive management of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and protected terrestrial water bodies is essential.

Sustainable agriculture is a way forward so that production does not erode local snail populations.

Finally, scientific research and conservation projects implemented by research centres and nonprofits play a key role in protecting these invertebrates.

WSF Activities and initiatives

The following two projects were developed and completed by the World Sustainability Foundation (WSF).

Save the Snails of Madeira Island

The World Sustainability Foundation provided financial support to Mossy Earth, a foundation under the laws of the United Kingdom, that aims to bring back wild native forests, rewild habitats to support biodiversity, and support underfunded ecosystems and species, with special regard to snails.

The collaboration aimed to take part in a project on Madeira Island (Portugal) and carry out the following:

1. Assessment of the conservation status of the 4 populations of the target species (Discula lyelliana, Atlantica calathoides, Geomitra coronula, and Geomitra grabhami);

2. Assessment of the conservation status of the species’ habitat through drone images;

3. Assessment of population size, through the capture/marking/recapture of animals in the 4 populations of the target species;

4. Installation of 4 video cameras near the populations of the target species, to monitor invasive species or previously undocumented threats;

5. Collection of the founding specimens of Geomitra coronula, to enable the start of a captive breeding programme;

6. Maintenance of installed environmental dataloggers, with battery replacement and data collection;

7. Collection of images and video to be used to raise awareness about the project and species.

Save the Snails of Italy

Friend of the Earth*, with the cooperation of the “La Specola” Florence University Natural History Museum, has activated a three-year research project for the study, protection, and conservation of two species of mollusks endemic to Tuscany that are endangered and at serious risk of extinction: the Melanopsis etrusca and the Xerosecta giustii.

* Before the World Sustainability Foundation was officially founded, this project was under Friend of the Earth.

The species


Melanopsis etrusca

The Melanopsis etrusca (Brot, 1862) is a freshwater gastropod of small to medium size (about 12mm in length) whose distribution is linked only to springs of thermo-mineral waters in the Tuscan Maremma; there are still unknown details about the lifecycle, such as type of reproduction. Due indeed to the peculiarity of its habitat and the contraction of the distribution area, this species is protected on a regional level and is classified as “Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), although it’s also protected by a specific norm enacted by the Tuscan Regional administration and is indicated as a target species in the regional action plans.


Xerosecta giustii

Xerosecta giustii (Manganelli & Favilli, 1996) is a medium-sized terrestrial pulmonate, linked to the scrublands in a small strip of the Metallifera hills. The species is limited to a very small area and can thus be considered very rare. It is for these reasons that Xerosecta giustii is included on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as “Critically Endangered“.

The project

The project operated on several fronts; on the one hand the improvement of the natural sites and on the other the breeding of the ex situ species, for the release of the specimens bred into nature. The first stages involved the genetic study of the natural populations and the development of the breeding techniques of both species.

Two separate farms were set up: one for the M. Etrusca at the Mondo Marino Aquarium in Massa Marittima (Grosseto) and one for the X. Giustii at the snail farming company “The Maremma snail” in Campagnatico (Grosseto). Both sites have been designed to recreate the natural habitats of the species, ideal for their reproduction. The project also included outreach and educational activities to make the public aware of the importance of biodiversity protection.

Save the Snails of Italy was an innovative project not only from a scientific point of view but also because it involved at the same time the academic world, public administrations – Campiglia Marittima, Massa Marittima and Grosseto councils – and private individuals. In addition to the Museum, the WSF availed itself of the scientific support of international experts from the University of Rennes (France) and Canada.

Tuscany is not the only region in Italy to host species of endangered snails.
According to the data contained in the red lists of the World Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it is known that there are a few dozen species of gastropods, better known as snails, at risk (Endangered) and serious risk of extinction (Critically Endangered), scattered throughout the Italian territory.

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