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Op-Ed: When is 'extinct' really 'extinct'? The missing snail row

By Tim Sandle     Oct 18, 2014 in Environment
The Aldabra banded snail was last sighted in 1996 and declared extinct in 2007, with the blame placed squarely on climate change. However, it has since been "rediscovered." This has led to a debate about the accuracy of the original research.
The Aldabra banded snail (Rhachistia aldabrae) is a species of air-breathing land snail. The species lives on one atoll in the Seychelles Islands, Indian Ocean, and is easily recognizable for its purplish-blue banded shell. The species was thought to have died out because of climate change. It now appears that this "opinion" was incorrect.
No snails had been since since the mid-1990s. However, a team of Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) staff were exploring infrequently visited parts of Malabar Island, the second largest island of Aldabra, discovered, on August 23, 2014, a number of the snail species. SIF CEO Dr Frauke Fleischer-Dogley described the rediscovery as "a beacon of hope," with reference to species loss and the theoretical impact of climate change.
Any excitement about the "re-discovery" of the Aldabra banded snail has been off-set by a row about the original science paper that announced that the species was "extinct." This paper, written by Justin Gerlach of the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles, was published in the journal Biology Letters ("Short-term climate change and the extinction of the snail Rhachistia aldabrae (Gastropoda: Pulmonata)".) In the paper, it was argued that a decrease in rainfall as a result of short-term climate change led to the extinction of the snails.
At the time the paper was published, biologist Clive Hambler of the University of Oxford did not think that the case for the extinction of the snails was convincing. He pointed to methodological and statistical problems with the analysis, and called for the retraction of the paper.
With the new sightings of the snails, Hambler has, according to The Scientist, again asked for the paper — now disproven — to be withdrawn. However, the journal’s editor-in-chief Rick Battarbee said that he is not planning to pull the manuscript from the literature.
This raises the question: should science papers that are subsequently found to be inaccurate — for whatever reason — be withdrawn? Or should they remain available to scientists and the public in order to learn from? Please use the comments section below, Digital Journal is interested in reading your views.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Extinct, Snails, Science, peer review
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