, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 215–239 | Cite as

Snail populations, beech litter production, and the role of snails in litter decomposition

  • C. F. Mason


The population densities of snails living in beech litter were studied form March 1968 to April 1969. Litter production over one year was measured and the role of snails in litter disappearance assessed.

Snails were extracted from litter using a modified Vágvölgyi (1952) flotation method, extraction efficiencies being 84%. The mean annual population density of the twenty-one species of snail recorded on the main sampling site was estimated at 489/m2. Carychium tridentatum was the most numerous species, with a mean density of 200/m2. Acanthinula aculeata, Punctum pygmaeum and Vitrea contracta also had fairly high mean densities. The mean annual biomass was 699 mg dry wt./m2 or 278 mg ash-free dry wt./m2. Hygromia striolata and Oxychilus cellarius/alliarius were the most important species in terms of biomass on the main site. Within the limits of accuracy imposed by the sampling regime the population densities of four out of five of the species (C. tridentatum, A. aculeata, V. contracta, Retinella pura) studied remained unchanged throughout the year, whereas P. pygmaeum had a significantly higher autumn population. C. tridentatum populations were highly aggregated at all times of the year, most markedly so in June. Other species were aggregated at certain times of the year only. Samples taken from other sites showed total population densities of snails ranging from 185–1082 snails/m2.

A total tree litter production of 652 g/m2/annum was recorded of which 584g/m2/annum was of beech material. 72% fell in the October–December period. 58% of the beech litter-fall was leaves, 5.2% bud-scales, 27% fruits and 10% twigs and bark. Summation of appropriate field layer peak standing crops amounted to 23.3 g/m2. This was considered as potential litter and was equivalent to 3.4% of the total litter input. The litter standing on the woodland floor in Septermber 1968 was 2,700 g/m2, hence, assuming a steady state, litter turnover time was estimated as 4.5 years.

It was calculated that the total snail population ingested 0.35–0.43% of the annual litter input, of which 49% was assimilated. The role of the individual species is examined in relation to concepts of “key species” in ecosystem functioning. The possible role of slugs in decomposition processes is also discussed.


Litter Production Litter Input Snail Population Litter Standing Annual Litter 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Agócsy, P.: Data to quantitative conditions in the mollusk faunas of two different substrates in central Hungary. Acta zool. hung. 14, 1–6 (1968).Google Scholar
  2. Baker, R. E.: The ecology of the wrinkled snail, Helicella caperata Mont on the Braunton Burrows sand dune system. Proc. malac. Soc. (Lond.) 38, 41–54 (1968).Google Scholar
  3. Berry, A. J.: Population structure and fluctuations in the snail fauna of a Malayan limestone hill. J. Zool. (Lond.) 150, 11–27 (1966).Google Scholar
  4. Berthet, P.: La mesure écologique de la température par détermination de la vitesse d'inversion du saccharose. Vegetatio 9, 197–207 (1960).Google Scholar
  5. —: Mesure de la consommation, d'oxygène des Oribatides (Acariens) de la litière des Forêts. Soil organisms, ed. J. Doeksen and J. van der Drift, p. 18–31. Amsterdam: North Holland Publ. Co. 1963.Google Scholar
  6. —: The metabolic activity of oribatid mites (Acarina) in different forest floors (secondary productivity of terrestrial ecosystems, ed. K. Petrusewicz), p. 709–725. Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydownicwo Naukowe 1967.Google Scholar
  7. Birch, L. C., Clark, P. D.: Forest soil as an ecological community with special reference to the fauna. Quart. Rev. Biol. 28, 13–36 (1953).Google Scholar
  8. Bocock, K. L.: The digestion and assimilation of food by Glomeris (Soil organisms, ed. J. Doeksen and J. van der Drift), p. 85–91. Amsterdam: North Holland Publ. Co. 1963.Google Scholar
  9. Bonnevie-Svendsen, C., Gjems, D.: Amount and chemical composition of the litter from larch, beech, Norway spruce and Scots pine stands and its effect, upon the soil. Meddr. norske Skoysfars Ves. 48, 111–174 (1957).Google Scholar
  10. Bornebusch, C. H.: The fauna of forest soil, p. 224. Copenhagen: Nielsen and Lydicke 1930.Google Scholar
  11. Bray, J. R., Gorham, E.: Litter production in forests of the world. Adv. ecol. Res. 2, 101–157 (1964).Google Scholar
  12. Danckelmann B.: Streuertragstafel für Buchen-und Fichtenhochwaldungen. Z. Forst.-u. Jagdw. 19, 577–587 (1887).Google Scholar
  13. Darnell, R. M.: Animal nutrition in relation to secondary production. Amer. Zoologist 8, 83–93 (1968).Google Scholar
  14. David, F. N., Moore, P. G.: Notes on contagious distributions in plant populations. Ann. Bot. (Lond.) N. S. 18, 47–53 (1954).Google Scholar
  15. Debauche, H. N.: The structural analysis of animal communities of the soil. Progress in soil zoology, ed. P. W. Murphy, p. 10–25. London: Butterworth, 1962.Google Scholar
  16. Donov, V.: [Amounts of litter in beech aspen and hornbeam stands.] Bulgarian Nauchni Trud. vissh lesotekh. Inst. 12, 33–40 (1964).Google Scholar
  17. Drift, J. van der, Witkamp, M.: The significance of the breakdown of oak litter by Enoicyla pusilla Burm. Arch. néerl. Zool. 13, 486–492 (1958).Google Scholar
  18. Ebermayer, E.: Die gesamte Lehre der Waldstreu mit Rücksicht auf die chemische Statik des Waldbaues, 116 p., Berlin: Springer 1876.Google Scholar
  19. Edwards, C. A., Heath, G. W. The role of soil animals in breakdown of leaf material (Soil organisms, ed. J. Doeksen and J. van der Drift), p. 76–84. Amsterdam: North Holland Publ. Co. 1963.Google Scholar
  20. Foster, T. D.: Productivity of a land snail, Polygyra thyroides, (Say.). Ecology 18, 545–546 (1937).Google Scholar
  21. Frömming, E.: Die Biologie der mitteleuropäischen Land-Gastropoden. Berlin: Duncker and Humblot 1954.Google Scholar
  22. —: Die Rolle unserer Landschnecken bei der Stoffumwandlung und Humusbildung. Z. angew. Zool. 45, 341–350 (1958).Google Scholar
  23. Gere, G.: Über einige Faktoren des Streuabbaues (Soil organisms, ed. J. Doeksen and J. van der Driff), p. 67–75. Amsterdam: North Holland Publ. Co. 1963.Google Scholar
  24. Goodhart, C. B.: Variation in a colony of the snail, Cepaea nemoralis (L.). J. anim. Ecol. 31, 207–237 (1962).Google Scholar
  25. Greig-Smith, P.: Quantitative plant ecology, 256 p., London: Butterworths 1964.Google Scholar
  26. Grime, J. P., Blythe, G. M.: An investigation of the relationships between snails and vegetation at the Winnats Pass. J. Ecol. 57, 45–66 (1969).Google Scholar
  27. Hunter, P. J. The distribution and abundance of slugs on an arable plot in Northumberland. J. anim. Ecol. 35, 543–557 (1966).Google Scholar
  28. Jacot, A. P.: Molluscan populations of old growth forests and rewooded fields in the Asheville basin of North Carolina. Ecology 16, 603–605 (1935).Google Scholar
  29. Járó, Z.: [Litter production in Hungarian forests.] Hungarian. Erdészettud. Közl. 1, 151–162 (1958).Google Scholar
  30. Kazmierczakow, R.: Ecology of primary production and phenology of the beech stand Fagetum carpaticum ground flora. Zakl. Ochr. Przyr. Polsk. Akad. Nauk. Ser. A 1, 95–114 (1967).Google Scholar
  31. Kira, T., Shidei, T.: Primary production and turnover of organic matter in different forest ecosystems of the western Pacific. Jap. J. Ecol. 17, 70–87 (1967).Google Scholar
  32. Lindquist, B.: Experimentelle Untersuchungen über die Bedeutung einiger Landmollusken für die Zersetzung der Waldstreu. K. Fysiogr. Sallsk. Lund Forh. 11, 144–156 (1941).Google Scholar
  33. Lloyd, M.: Numerical observations on movements of animals between beech litter and fallen branches. J. anim. Ecol. 32, 157–163 (1963).Google Scholar
  34. Macfadyen, A.: Metabolism of soil invertebrates in relation to soil fertility. Ann. appl. Biol. 49, 216–219 (1961).Google Scholar
  35. —: The contribution of the fauna to the total soil metabolism. Soil organisms, ed. J. Doeksen and J. van der Drift, p. 3–17. Amsterdam: North Holland Publ. Co. 1963.Google Scholar
  36. Mason, C. F.: Food, feeding rates and assimilation in woodland snails. Oecologia 4, 358–373 (1970).Google Scholar
  37. Megalinskij, P. W., Orlov, A. N.: [Effect of Acer pseudoplatanus litter on certain chemical properties of the soil.] Russian. Lesn. Z, Arhang'sk 8, 167–168 (1965).Google Scholar
  38. Möller, C. M., Müller, D., Nielsen, J.: Loss of branches in European beech. Forstl. Forsøkev. Danm. 21, 253–271 (1954).Google Scholar
  39. —: Graphic presentation of dry matter production of European beech. Forstl. Forsøkev. Danm. 21, 327–335 (1954).Google Scholar
  40. Mörzer Bruijns, M. F., Regteren Altena, C. O. van, Butot, L. J. M.: The Netherlands as an environment for land mollusca. Basteria 23, 135–162 (1959).Google Scholar
  41. Morton, J. E.: Notes on the ecology and annual cycle of Carychium tridentatum at Box Hill. Proc. malac. Soc. Lond. 31, 30–46 (1954).Google Scholar
  42. Myczkowski, S.: Floristic composition, structure, and productivity of woody plants in a beech stand Fagetum carpaticum. Zakl. Ochr. Przyr. Polsk. Akad. Nauk. 61–94 (1967).Google Scholar
  43. Newbould, P. J.: Methods for estimating the primary production of forests, p. 62. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications 1967.Google Scholar
  44. Økland, F.: Quantitative researches concerning the land-fauna, especially the molluscs. Beret. om det 18. Skand. Naturforsk. i København. (1929).Google Scholar
  45. Ovington, J. D.: Studies of the development of woodland conditions under different trees III. The ground flora. J. Ecol. 43, 1–21 (1955).Google Scholar
  46. — Murray, G.: Determination of acorn fall. Quart. J. For. 58, 152–159 (1964).Google Scholar
  47. Owen, D. F.: A population study of an equatorial land snail, Limicolaria martesiana (Achatinidae). Proc. zool. Soc. (Lond.) 144, 361–382 (1965).Google Scholar
  48. Pomeroy, D. E.: Some aspects of the ecology of the land snail, Helicella virgata, in South Australia. Aust. J. Zool. 17, 495–514 (1969).Google Scholar
  49. South, A.: Biology and ecology of Agriolimax reticulatus (Müll.) and other slugs: spatial distribution. J. anim. Ecol. 34, 403–417 (1965).Google Scholar
  50. Strandine, E. J.: Quantitative study of a snail population. Ecology 22, 86–91 (1941)Google Scholar
  51. Sviridova, L. K.: [Role of improvement cuttings in raising forest soil fertility.] Russian. Pochvovedinie 4, 68–73 (1960).Google Scholar
  52. Taylor, J. W.: Monograph of the land and fresh-water Mollusca of the British Isles. Leeds: Taylor 1894–1921.Google Scholar
  53. Vágvölgyi, J.: A new sorting method for snails, applicable also for quantitative researches. Annls. hist.-nat. Mus. natn. hung. 3, 101–104 (1952).Google Scholar
  54. Valovirta, I.: Land molluscs in relation to acidity on hyperite hills in central Finland. Ann. Zool. Fenn. 5, 245–253 (1968).Google Scholar
  55. Wäreborn, I.: Land molluscs and their environments in an oligotrophic area in southern Sweden. Oikos 20, 461–479 (1969).Google Scholar
  56. Williamson, M. H.: The separation of molluscs from woodland leaf-litter. J. anim. Ecol. 28, 153–155 (1959).Google Scholar
  57. Zangiyev, M.: [Seasonal dynamics of litter fall in the main types of beech wood in the Belokano-Zakately mountain massif.] Azerbi. Turkish. Izv. Akad. Nauk. azerb. SSR, Ser. Biol. 1, Med. Nauk. 4, 11–18 (1960).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. F. Mason
    • 1
  1. 1.Animal Ecology Research Group, Department of ZoologyBotanic GardenOxfordEngland

Personalised recommendations