The University of South Florida hosted the 4th meeting of the Florida United Malacologists (FUM) conference in Tampa recently.
The one day gathering of around 60 participants from around Florida was designed to facilitate and enhance communication among malacologists. Malacology is the study of mollusks which includes clams, snails and related animals such as squids and octopus. Mollusks are one of the most diverse groups of animals with over 50,000 described species. Ecologically, mollusks play an important role in marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Many species such as oysters and scallops are also economically important as a food source, while other species such as some snails are considered to be agricultural pests.
The meeting was a good way for shell enthusiasts, professionals and student malacologists to present their research. “We are getting all groups of science together” said Dr. Gregory Herbert, organizer of the event and Associate Professor of Geology and Paleobiology at the University of South Florida.
“The different disciplines can inform one another in useful ways”, he added. Topics presented included ecology, biology, paleontology archeology and conservation. “The whole learning experience is great!” said Kevin Campbell, an environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County in Tampa.
For the first time in FUM history, attendees participated in a field trip on the second day of the conference. The outing took them to the SMR Aggregates, Inc. shell mine in Sarasota, one of the most diverse and well preserved fossil mollusk sites anywhere. "Opportunities for most of the attendees to visit such a spectacular shell mine with millions of 2.5 -3.5 million year old marine fossils is extremely rare", said Roger Portell, Director of Invertebrate Paleontology Collections with the Florida Museum of Natural history (FMNH) and co-organizer of the field trip.
There is no formal membership to FUM and there are no dues, officers, or publications, although presenters are encouraged to submit a written abstract of their talk for the meeting program. Dr. Jose Leal, one of the founders of FUM and Director of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in Sanibel Island explains that FUM started as an idea from lifelong shell collectors Alan Gettleman and Phyllis Diegel who believed that someone in Florida should organize informal annual meetings similar to organizations from around the country. “They approached me as Director of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum and with the help from staff and volunteers, the first FUM was held at the Museum on January 30, 2010. The FUM meetings have been held annually ever since, with the second meeting hosted at the FMNH in Gainesville in 2011 and the third annual meeting returning to Sanibel Island in 2012.
Leal notes that he envisions FUM to be a forum without borders for researchers, students, shell enthusiasts, and anyone else interested in the natural history of mollusks. Looking at the success of all the meetings, his vision is becoming a reality.
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