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Prehistoric aesthetics explains snail biogeography puzzle
Date:9/18/2007

ed; on nearby Moorea, the shells would have had slightly more value, but could easily have been obtained through trade with Tahiti. To residents of more distant islands, however, white shells from Tahiti would have been a rare treasure, desirable enough to make it worthwhile to travel to Tahiti, bring back live snails and raise them.

"The combination of aesthetic preference and fashionability made the unlikely introduction possible," said Foighil, who also read up on marketing theory while preparing the paper and found parallels with today's marketing of trendy fashion items whose value is enhanced by their scarcity.

In addition to providing insights into early Polynesians' taste in jewelry, and into prehistoric trading links among these archipelagoes, the research suggests solutions to conservation quandaries.

Since the 1980s, researchers and conservationists have been setting up captive populations of Tahitian tree snails in European and North American zoos, including the Detroit Zoo. "The big problem for captive breeding programs is how best to reintroduce these snails to the wild. Should you reintroduce the snails to Tahiti, where the predator is, or should you spread them out to other---predator-free---islands, where the white-shelled snails that were introduced long ago are still thriving" Our research would suggest that establishing multiple populations on other islands may be one possible way forward."


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Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
rossflan@umich.edu
734-647-1853
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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