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Jumping Snails will Outlive Fish in the Warming Oceans

Jul 06, 2013 11:36 AM EDT

A group of researchers studying Great Barrier Reef humpbacked conch snails report that the mollusks will be able to use their trademark jump to avoid predators, even as ocean temperatures rise. The snails' jumping defense will still be a viable survival mechanism, even if the water temperature exceeds a level that will kill fish.

The snails jump when they catch a whiff of the odor of its main predator, the marbled cone shell.

Researchers from James Cook University and University of Oslo in Norway, studied the effects of increased water temperature on the ability of the snail to deliver oxygen to tissues used during jumping provoked by the marbled cone shell.

Researchers analyzed the the oxygen consumption rates in the snails in resting and actively jumping at normal, 29 degrees Celsius temperature and an elevated temperature of 34 C -- the temperature projected to be reached during the next 100 years due to global warming.

Snails in normal temperature water were found to increase their oxygen consumption by as much as five times during jumping, and they were able to maintain such an elevated oxygen consumption even when seawater temperatures were increased to 37 C, which is too hot for coral reef fish to survive for even a short amount of time.

The research was presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Valencia, Spain on July 5.

The video below shows a different species of snail, the Florida Fighting Conch, making a similar jumping motion to the Great Barrier Reef humpbacked conch.

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