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Distribution, habitat preferences and behaviour of the critically endangered Maltese top-shell Gibbula nivosa (Gastropoda, Trochidae)


The Maltese top-shell, Gibbula nivosa Adams1851, is a critically endangered marine trochid gastropod endemic to the Maltese Islands (central Mediterranean). Previously unrecorded live since 1981, rediscovery of this species in 2006 has enabled the collection of basic biological data for the first time, based on a population in Sliema Creek. The field distribution and habitat preferences of G. nivosa were investigated via stratified random sampling, while aspects of its behaviour were studied through laboratory experiments. Gibbula nivosa occurred primarily in near-homogeneous or homogeneous infralittoral cobble/pebble beds, at an overall density of 17.6 ± 25.0 SD individuals m-2 however, large spatial and temporal variations in abundance were recorded. The snails did not exhibit gregarious behaviour and the slightly clumped dispersion pattern noted in the field appeared to result from patchiness of the habitat. Recruitment was observed in post-summer months, which, together with data on shell-size distributions, suggests that G. nivosa spawns in early summer and attains adult size (maximum shell width ~9 mm) in less than 1 year. Gibbula nivosa showed a circadian activity pattern with nocturnal foraging involving indiscriminate ingestion of particles browsed off the substratum; observations on responses to four potential predators suggest that nocturnal activity may have evolved in response to diurnal predation. Historical records of snail occurrence and the present study suggest that population declines of G. nivosa in the past were probably related to habitat alteration as a result of anthropogenic pressure. 

Evans, J.; Borg, J.A. & Schembri, P.J. (2011). Distribution, habitat preferences and behaviour of the critically endangered Maltese top-shell Gibbula nivosa (Gastropoda, Trochidae). Marine Biology 158: 603-611.

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