, Volume 68, Issue 1, pp 111-117

Habitat disturbance and the stability of freshwater gastropod populations

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Summary

The interaction of population stability and habitat permanence has a major influence on the microdistribution of freshwater snails. For two years (February 1980–January 1982), we monitored the abundance of macrophytes and the abundance and size structure of four species of macrophyte-associated freshwater snails in an English pond. Previous work (Lodge, in press) showed that two species, the pulmonate Lymnaea peregra (Mull.) and the prosobranch Valvata piscinalis (Mull.), were associated with cubmersed macrophytes, while two other species, the pulnonate Planorbis vortex (Linn.), and the prosobranch Bithynia tentaculata (Linn.), were associated with emergent macrophytes. A dramatic decline of submersed macrophytes provided a test of the hypotheses that the population stability of Lymnaea and Valvata was 1) high, and 2) an important cause of the association of those two species with submersed macrophytes.

When the submersed macrophytes declined in August 1980, >99% of the Lymnaea and about 35% of the Valvata population died. The populations of Planorbis and Bithynia were not reduced. In 1980, Lymnaea and Valvata had simple annual life cycles, but with the regrowth of submersed macrophytes in spring 1981, the Lymnaea and Valvata populations responded with early, high, and repeated reproduction with some overlap of generations. In both years, Planorbis had an annual semelparous life cycle, while Bithynia lived up to 3 years and bred iteroparously.

Following the terminology of Connell and Sousa (1983), Lymnaea exhibited low resistance to habitat disturbance but high adjustment following the disturbance. Valvata showed higher resistance than Lymnaea, and also high adjustment. Although the population stability of Planorbis and Bithynia could not be rigorously evaluated, published accounts of those species' life cycles suggest that stability, specially the adjustment component, was low. We suggest that the population stability of the four species is a major determinant of the association of Lymnaea and Valvata with the impermanent macrophyte habitat and that of Planorbis and Bithynia with the permanent macrophyte habitat.