In 2017, a pink snail crawled along a sun-soaked Tahiti road with an unexpected passenger: a pre-set computer the size of a bedbug, delicately screwed on to its shell. it’s like a hat.
This particular snail has been implicated in the extinction of 134 species of snails worldwide. The carnivorous pink snail was introduced to Tahiti decades ago, and this predator has very few survivors.
But one Tahitian species has survived in dozens of valleys on the island: the small yogurt-colored snail Partula hyalina. “There must be something special about them,” said Cindy Bick, a researcher at the University of Michigan.
Now, with solar data collected from some of the world’s smallest computers attached to the shells of the pink wolf and the leafy habitat of P. hyalina, Dr. Bick and his colleagues. she elucidated how P. hyalina ‘s pale shell helps the species survive extinction . Their results were published in June in the journal Communications Biology.
In 2012, while Dr. Bick was still a PhD student, she began investigating the mystery of P. hyalina’s survival with Diarmaid Ó Foighil, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and curator. University Museum of Zoology. Together, they published a paper in 2014 showing that the species’ greater subset helped it outlast other species. But even this is not enough to explain the rare success of P. hyalina. “It does more than survive,” said Dr. Ó Foighil.
Most terrestrial snails prefer shade. Like many other species, the wolf snail has a dark pink shell that will dry out like a jerk if left in the sun. But Dr. Bick read while working in the field journal of an early 20th-century malignancy that P. hyalina is commonly found on forest edges, where trees are sparsely exposed to sunlight. God.
Dr. Bick and Dr. Ó Foighil began to think: If P. hyalina’s milky crust could reflect and withstand more sunlight, sunny stretches of forest could provide shelter. safe from pink wolves. They just needed a way to measure the amount of sunlight each species receives each day.
When two zoologists were pondering snails, on campus, David Blaauw’s engineering lab created the world’s smallest computer with a battery: a 2 x 5 x 2 mm sensor. slightly larger than a bedbug. Sensors receive data in visible light and transmit it via radio.
A few years later, Dr. Blaauw’s team received a striking request: to attach tiny computers to the carnivorous snails of Tahiti. Dr. Bick’s proposal seemed perfect – an opportunity to test real-world sensors with collaborators close by and assist in a project that could advance wildlife conservation.
To prepare the sensors for the snail, Dr. Blaauw’s lab added a small energy receiver with a solar cell so that the sensor could recharge its battery in the sun. They wrapped the system in epoxy to waterproof the sensor, protect it from harsh light, and cushion it from the rough life of the average snail.
They have a problem. They need to give the tiny computers the power to measure light but keep the system free of large batteries that could damage a snail. Inhee Lee, now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, then a researcher in Dr. Blaauw’s lab, helped solve the puzzle. Dr. Lee and Dr. Blaauw simply reused the reaper and measured its solar charge rate as a measure of sunlight.
Using several species of invasive snails found in a garden in Michigan, the researchers first tried but couldn’t stick the computer to the shell with magnets and Velcro until they figured out how to stick a belt metal screw to the surface and screw the sensor onto the nut. After that, the snails and their tiny passengers are ready to pass the simulation elements (bucket of water).
In August 2017, Dr. Bick and Dr. Lee arrived in Tahiti with 55 sensors. They jump from valley to valley guided by Trevor Coote, a newspaper author and an expert on land snails based in Tahiti. (Dr Coote died of Covid-19 in February 2021.)
Every day, the researchers monitored the snails for hours to make sure they didn’t escape. Occasionally, they have rain. They didn’t have a license to computer with P. hyalina, which is considered endangered, so they mounted the camera directly next to the snails, on leaves that sleep during the day, essentially. monitor the amount of sunlight the stalkless snails receive. But the computer-filled pink snails proved a tougher challenge, as the mollusk moves slowly but is determined to feed (one snail ignored the sensor for several days). .
The data show that the habitat sensors of P. hyalina receive an average of 10 times more sunlight than the pink snails. That confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that bright conditions protected the pale snails from pink predators.
The pink snail was introduced to the Society Islands in the 1970s with the goal of controlling another invader, the giant African land snail. But the terror of the pink wolf has caused many species of snails on the island to become extinct.
Dr Bick, from the Pacific, said: “I grew up around these environments and listened to myths about species of animals and plants that are now extinct or on the verge of extinction if they were to become extinct. We do not act quickly to preserve them. Islanders. She added that she hopes this study supports efforts to maintain P. hyalina’s hidden habitat with solar energy in the Social Islands.
“Most of the time, we talk about things that are dead and dying,” says Dr. Bick. “This is a story about resilience.”