After three years of study and assessment, Filipino scientists from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) have finally introduced a new sub-species of microsnail that is endemic to Masungi Georeserve in the municipality of Baras, Rizal province.
Discovered in 2017 by a team of scientists composed of Harold Lipae, Angelique Estabillo, Ian Kendrich Fontanilla, and Emmanuel Ryan de Chavez, the snail was observed as similar to what was only recorded in Baguio City.
The group however became curious as to how a site-specific snail ended up 200 kilometers south of the country’s summer capital. It took them three years to study and analyze the specimen and found that it is indeed a new sub-species of Hypselostoma latispira.
Named Hypselostoma latispira masungiensis, the new sub-species of microsnail has been published in the Philippine Journal of Systematic Biology with an extensive description by the Filipino scientists who discovered it.
It is described as a karst-dependent land snail, which can be found attached to limestone boulders feeding on lichens and other vegetation.
The sub-species is considered a microsnail with a size of less than 5 millimeters, about the size of a worker ant.
The snail found in Masungi is distinguished from H. I. latispira from Baguio City through several distinct shell characteristics.
A morphological study of two snail populations established that the snails from Baguio were found to be smaller in shell size and have narrower body whorl and apertural width, while those from Masungi were bigger and have larger body whorl and apertural width.
The snails from Masungi also have five apertural teeth inside its shell, while the snails from Baguio only have four teeth.
The discovery of a new microsnail sub-species just highlights the importance of karst ecosystems like Masungi as areas of high conservation value.
According to Masungi Georeserve Foundation managing trustee Ann Dumaliang, “the discovery of the Masungi-endemic snail only stresses the urgent need to protect Masungi against destructive interests, such as quarrying and land trafficking, which significantly alter the landscape.”
“With low mobility, snails are among the most vulnerable and helpless animals. If the rocks and soils are extracted, these species will be annihilated without a trace,” Dumaliang added.
Dr. Ryan de Chavez of the Animal Biology Division, Institute of Biological Sciences of the UPLB said Hypselostoma are dependent on karsts as a source of calcium for their shell and eggs.
“Some land snails are exclusively found on limestones due to their dependence on high calcium content (calcium carbonate) which are plenty in karsts. Karsts can also be considered as habitat islands. Snails through time became intimately dependent on these habitats, are then ‘trapped’ in these areas. This is true for Hypselostoma,” he explained.
Dumaliang recommended aggressively applying innovative area-based conservation management models and engaging all sectors to save karst ecosystems.
The research team, with the support of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), is continuously studying the high diversity of snail species at Masungi, which “may be one of the highest ever recorded in the country.”