A thousand species of land snail worldwide are known to be at risk of extinction. Most have very specific needs and a limited geological range, so scientists have been studying their populations to understand how changes in the environment could affect biodiversity more broadly. “Land snails are apt to be the real canaries in the coal mine for these sorts of changes,” said Rebecca Rundell, a biologist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Dr. Rundell is conducting such research on endangered land snails in the Republic of Palau, and similar projects are underway in such far-flung places as Hawaii and Bermuda. But the same issues are at play in her backyard, with the “Chits,” which can only flourish in nearly 100 percent humidity and the shade of deciduous forests. “The conservation status of our local snail is emblematic of what is happening to land snails globally,” she said. And so Dr. Rundell’s team, with volunteers and employees from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, gathered on the side of the waterfall, their feet and knees planted cautiously but firmly on rocks, and sifted gently through the dirt and roots. Their goal: to figure out how many of these snails remain in the wild without crushing any in the process.
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