The beautiful and varied Partula snails of the Pacific Islands were the first wild animals to be the focus of evolutionary research when in 1906 Henry Crampton began to investigate the impact of selection and drift on speciation. Interest in them moved with the times and in the 1960s Clarke, Murray and Johnson's work on linking specific genes to inherited shell patterns played an important role in the development f modern genetic techniques. Sadly a few years later the misguided introduction to Polynesia of carnivorous snails led Partula to a new status as an icon of extinction, with the few surviving species reduced to relict wild populations and zoo colonies.
Crampton's 1916 monograph on the Partula of Tahiti and its companion volume on those of Moorea (published 20 years later) remain the most detailed analyses of species diversity ever published. They include beautiful illustrations of every variety of shell that he found. Sadly Crampton's death in 1956 left his work unfinished with four of the six French Polynesian islands unaccounted for. He left behind him a quarter of a million specimens and 18 boxes of unpublished notes, all of which are preserved in Philadelphia.
My project is to complete Crampton's great work, examining his specimens and compiling the information in his archives. This will lead to the publication of a new monograph, updating Crampton's Tahitian and Moorean volumes, incorporating the species of the rest of French Polynesia, and addition of those of the other Pacific islands. At present this is thought to be a total of 127 species, but no-one will really know until this unfinished work is completed.
My aim is to produce a book that will be both a significant study of evolutionary biology and a beautiful object in its own right, with colour photographs of all the forms of the shells. This will facilitate future identification of the great number of unidentified, or misidentified Partula shells in collections around the world. In addition, the classic 18th and 19th century paintings of the shells will be brought together for the first time. More details on the contents are given on the project website: http://islandbiodiversity.com/crampton.htm
The funding for this project will be used to access the collections and archives in Philadelphia and to compile the monograph. The information will be gathered in 2014 and the book prepared in 2015, ready for publication at the start of 2016, to mark the centenary of the start of Crampton's series.
Risks and challenges
I have extensive experience of evolutionary research and publication and have planned the project accordingly. The Moorean section of the monograph has already been completed using the classic genetic collections made by Clarke, Murray and Johnson in the 1960s and 70s. This provides a template for the remaining sections.
The only risk to the project following funding is sourcing photographs of the small number of species not collected by Crampton. These will be sourced from other museum collections.
- (30 days)