Research project: Land snail diversity in Timor-Leste: Implications for conservation management


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Mundo Perdido in Timor-Leste

Mundo Perdido in Timor-Leste
Photographer: Vince Kessner © Vince Kessner

Museum investigators


Conservation efforts in Timor-Leste are hampered by unavailability of data on current patterns of biodiversity. The present outline of the country’s protected area network is based on bird data. Thus, it accounts for the conservation needs of one vagile group only. By surveying the land snail fauna, which are used as surrogates for other invertebrates, we address the question of whether the protected area system in Timor-Leste is adequate for the conservation of animal groups that differ in their ecological adaptations and capabilities from birds.

While snails are considered as good environmental indicators, with previously only nine species reported, Timor-Leste's land snail fauna is poorly documented. Based on comprehensive field work, we are conducting systematic and biogeographical studies that complement on-going research at the Australian Museum. We found about 100 species that require further taxonomic scrutiny. Thus, our survey demonstrates that the species richness in Timor-Leste is an order of magnitude higher than previously known. In addition, we document and analyse patterns of diversity and endemism across habitats that differ in disturbance, patch size, and altitude.

Being the second largest island in the Wallacean transitional zone between Indo-Australasian and South East Asian plates, Timor is of outstanding biogeographical significance. Knowledge of the island’s fauna is crucial for the understanding of biogeography in the transition zone of Australian and South East Asian continents. Our data will help to elucidate the origins of some Australian groups and contribute to our understanding of the biogeographic links in this complex region. Material collected during this project will stimulate on-going research that addresses relevant biogeographic and systematic questions.

Dr Frank Köhler , Senior Research Scientist
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