, Volume 665, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

Comparison of snail density, standing stock, and body size between Caribbean karst wetlands and other freshwater ecosystems

  • Clifton B. Ruehl
  • Joel C. Trexler
Review paper


Synthesizing data from multiple studies generates hypotheses about factors that affect the distribution and abundance of species among ecosystems. Snails are dominant herbivores in many freshwater ecosystems, but there is no comprehensive review of snail density, standing stock, or body size among freshwater ecosystems. We compile data on snail density and standing stock, estimate body size with their quotient, and discuss the major pattern that emerges. We report data from 215 freshwater ecosystems taken from 88 studies that we placed into nine categories. Sixty-five studies reported density, seven reported standing stock, and 16 reported both. Despite the breadth of studies, spatial and temporal sampling scales were limited. Researchers used 25 different sampling devices ranging in area from 0.0015 to 2.5 m2. Most ecosystem categories had similar snail densities, standing stocks, and body sizes suggesting snails shared a similar function among ecosystems. Caribbean karst wetlands were a striking exception with much lower density and standing stock, but large body size. Disparity in body size results from the presence of ampullariids in Caribbean karst wetlands suggesting that biogeography affects the distribution of taxa, and in this case size, among aquatic ecosystems. We propose that resource quality explains the disparity in density and standing stock between Caribbean karst wetlands and other categories. Periphyton in Caribbean karst wetlands has high carbon-to-phosphorous ratios and defensive characteristics that inhibit grazers. Unlike many freshwater ecosystems where snails are key grazers, we hypothesize that a microbial loop captures much of the primary production in Caribbean karst wetlands.


Cross-system comparison Energy flow Body size Biomass Everglades Food webs Grazing Microbial loop 



We thank Luis Zambrano, UNAM, for access to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and Lamani Outpost lodge personnel for access to Belizean wetlands. Bill Loftus, Josette LaHee, and Evelyn Gaiser helped with fieldwork in Belize and Mexico. Andy Turner and Don Uzarski provided un-published data that greatly improved our work. We appreciate all authors that provided insight into their collection schemes, sampling methods, and ecosystem descriptions, particularly Alexander Huryn for information on stream order in Alabama. Christer Brönmark provided unpublished length-weight regressions. An early version of this manuscript was greatly improved by comments from the Trexler lab group, Tim Collins, Evelyn Gaiser, Mary Power, Walter Hill, and Heather Vance-Chalcraft. A Judith Evans Parker Travel Fellowship and an Everglades Foundation Fellowship provided funding to CBR, while JCT received funds from the South East Environmental Research Center endowment and the National Science Foundation grant to the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Grant No. DBI-0620409 and Grant No. DEB-9910514. This is publication number 512 of the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityNorth MiamiUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyEast Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA

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