Global warming 'could kill off snails'

Global warming 'could kill off snails'

Scientists have warned that global warming could kill off some of the world's smallest and slimiest creatures such as snails.

Reuters Photo

A team at Flinders University says that any future policies for climate change must consider mobile organisms on rocky beaches -- like snails -- and their capacity to survive the predicted rise in extreme conditions such as heatwaves.

According to lead scientist Coraline Chapperon, the majority of current global warming research is mistakenly driven by air temperature which does not reflect the body temperature of most animals.

To prove how crucial individual animal body temperatures are to global warming policies, Chapperon has spent the past three years investigating the temperature and behaviour of snails and their ability to cope in extreme conditions.

The scientists took a series of thermal images of marine snails and rocks in two topographically different habitats, a rock platform and a boulder field, over the course of a summer and autumn at Marino Rocks.

They found that temperatures between microhabitats separated by just a few centimetres, such as crevices and underneath rocks, actually varied more than habitats separated by up to 250 metres, and that rock and snail temperatures were strongly connected, suggesting snail body temperatures are determined by the temperatures of rocks they are crawling on.

Chapperon said that while snails have limited physiological abilities to adapt any further to climate as they have already reached the upper limit of their "thermal tolerance window", the research suggests they may be able to modify their actions in order to survive locally.

However, she said in the varsity release that more research was needed to determine whether the "thermoregulatory behaviours" could actually buffer the warming climate.