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PhD graduate fights the invasion of the cloning snails

Marcus Butler

11 April 2016: University of Canberra PhD graduate Adrian Dusting has handled more than 5,000 tiny mud snails over the course of his degree and has found that the spread of the invasive species comes down to its ability to tolerate a range of environments.

Dr Dusting graduated last week after spending two and a half years with the University's Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), with his sights firmly set on the miniscule mollusc.

Not much larger than a grain of rice, the snail, otherwise known as Potamopyrgus antipodarum has been highly invasive, spreading to Australia, Asia, North and South America and Europe.

"These tiny snails show up everywhere, they really dominate the environments which they have moved into, making up a large proportion of the total number of organisms in any sample," Dr Dusting said.

"We know that the invasive snails are asexual, they don't breed with males and females, and the entire population is self-cloning females."

"My research has found three prevalent genotypes, or distinct individual DNA fingerprints, which is surprisingly low diversity for something which has spread so far."

The tiny snails can be found in locations from thermal springs to the open sea around river mouths and even living just inside the lip of garden taps.

"We found that these snails are great generalists; rather than evolving to adapt to the conditions, the original clones were really tolerant of a range of environments and they're capitalising by spreading further and further."

Dr Dusting described IAE as a great working environment and said he loved working and studying at the University of Canberra.

"The collegiate atmosphere at IAE really made it a fantastic working environment, I had leaders in ecology mentoring and providing advice throughout my studies, it was great," he said.

"I'm proud to have finished my PhD, but it shows that there are far more questions to be answered in addressing or controlling the spread of the mud snail."

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