Partula snails used to be an important part of the ecology of the Polynesian islands. In the 19th and 20th centuries they were amazingly abundant in many places. No ecological research was carried out on them until the 1960s, shortly before the extinction of most wild populations. As a result, we know hardly anything about their wild ecology. The few wild snails are so rare that it would be extremely difficult to study those. We have some information from the captive breeding programme, but this provides little information on wild ecology.
Research on the many thousands of preserved specimens in museums, collected in the 20th century is helping to start to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of the animals (see the intended use of this information here). Several species of the Moorean island snails could be found together in the past and dissection of the preserved snails shows that many had different diets (download the report). Some species could be regarded as generalists, feeding on decaying plant matter. P. suturalis was an omnivore, also feeding of living plant tissue and P. autranita mainly fed on live plants. P. olympia seem to have been much more specialised, their stomach contents containing mildew spores, suggesting that they were specialist fungal grazers. Most remarkable of all was the tiny hunting Partula, P. exigua, which fed on dead plant matter and other snails. These it swallowed whole, proabably seeking the calcim in their shells rather than the protein in their bodies. This research has beeng extended to the remaining species (see "Icons of Evolution".
There are other aspects of Partula ecology that still need to be investigated, such as their reproductive rates, and especially their temperature preferences and tolerances. This is needed in order for us to be able to understand the distributions of the surviving species and to predict how they will cope with a changing climate.
Other research on Partula
Hosted by Island Biodiversity