Pump up the volume

16 June 2011

A snail
A snail

Aberystwyth scientist Dr Rupert Marshall has recorded an item for the BBC’s Springwatch programme about the effect of human activities on wildlife.  Known for his work on birdsong in urban areas, in the programme Dr Marshall used snails to demonstrate differences between urban and rural environments. 

Gardeners and birdwatchers know that snails disappear into their shell as a defence mechanism.  Tap their shell and they shrink inside.  “I wondered whether man-made noise would affect their ability to search for food: do vibrations from road and industry cause them to cower?”  said Dr Marshall.   His experiments, carried out by final year zoology student Samantha Ward, found a big difference between city and country snail behaviour.

Filmed in Essex and helped by some local lads with a vast car sound system, Rupert and presenter Liz Bonner played urban music to the snails.  As predicted, the rural snail stayed inside its shell while the city slicker slid onwards.  “It appears that urban snails have adapted their behavioural responses – or at least got used to the noise”. 

The next step is to see whether they learn this behaviour, or whether the environment has casued changes to their genes.  “Human activity has a big impact on wildlife.  The better we understand this impact, the better we can design developments to minimise our effect on nature.”

The item is due to be screened on Thursday 16 June.

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The item was broadcast on Springwatch on Thursday 16 June, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0120hk9/Springwatch_2011_Episode_12/ 

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