A tale of two snails: is the cure worse than the disease?

The giant African snail, Achatina fulica, has been introduced to many parts of Asia as well as to numerous islands in the Indian and Pacific Ocean, and has recently reached the West Indies. It has been widely decried as a disaster to agricultural economies and a threat to human health, leading to a clamor for the introduction of biological control agents. In fact, the lasting impact on agriculture may not be severe, and the human health risk is probably minor. This snail can be an aesthetic atrocity and a nuisance in other ways, however. Wherever A. fulica has achieved high densities, it has subsequently undergone a striking decline. Although this decline has been attributed to introduced predators, there is little evidence for this hypothesis; instead, epizootic disease seems to be at least part of the cause. However, the introduced predators, especially a New World snail, Euglandina rosea, have wrought havoc with the native land snails of many islands. They have already caused many extinctions and will almost certainly cause others. This predator was introduced by government agencies in many areas despite warnings from competent biologists that the effects could be disastrous. Pressures for such actions may become overwhelming in the face of a highly visible invasion, despite policies that should mandate extreme caution.

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Civeyrel, L., Simberloff, D. A tale of two snails: is the cure worse than the disease?. Biodivers Conserv 5, 1231–1252 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00051574

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Keywords

  • Achatina fulica
  • biological control
  • Euglandina rosea
  • extinction
  • introduced species
  • non-indigenous species
  • predation