Gerlach says he found the proof he needed in shells gathered up by collectors. Smaller shells, once common, disappeared with the frequent long, hot summers. He suspects — but cannot prove — that these bad summers are a side effect of global warming. If he’s right, then this snail has earned itself a grim distinction: It would be the first species in the modern era to become extinct as a direct result of climate change.
It probably won’t be last, says biologist Diane Debinski of Iowa State University.
“I think what we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg in terms of extinction events. I expect that we’re going to be seeing more stories like this,” Debinski says.
Debinski studies the links between extinctions and climate changes. She says the paper doesn’t prove that this snail was done in by global warming, but she wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be true. That’s partly because ecologists have been saying for years that the species most vulnerable to climate change are the ones trapped in isolated habitats, like small islands, mountain tops, or wild lands surrounded by people.
In those situations, says Debinski, “organisms can’t move as easily, and so if the world changes, they are pretty much stranded in these patches of habitat. Maybe they can’t go across an interstate highway, maybe they can’t go through an urban area, and so the climate they like to move into is not accessible.”
In other words, if the globe continues to get warmer, what happened to that snail you never heard of could soon be happening all over the world.
September 9, 2014: Thought extinct, Aldabra banded snail found alive.
Al Gore, call your office.