Dispersal and local environmental factors are major determinants of invasive species distribution. We examined how both dispersal-related geospatial characteristics and environmental factors influence an ongoing invasion of wetlands in a south-central Florida ranchland by non-native apple snails (Pomacea maculata, Ampullariidae). We found P. maculata in 73 (43%) of a random set of 171 wetlands in 2014. We used model selection to evaluate multiple hypotheses of predictors of P. maculata occurrence in 95 wetlands with standing water, including spatially-explicit distances in ditches from wetlands to the presumed entry point, Euclidean (overland) distances, presence/absence of ditches in wetlands, and environmental variables (e.g. pH). We also performed a 5-month field experiment in 20 wetlands to evaluate if snail absence was associated with conditions that limit survival and growth (i.e. unfavorable habitats). Snail occurrence was primarily associated with presence of ditches in wetlands and more neutral wetland pH. These variables more plausibly explained snail occurrence than did Euclidean (overland) distance and minimum ditch travel (rectilinear) distance from propagule sources (a major waterway). Wetland pH best explained survival and growth under the experimental conditions. We found no evidence that prior occupancy by conspecifics affected survival and growth, suggesting that dispersal limitation may contribute to lack of occupancy of wetlands, despite suitable pH. Our study supports man-made conduits as facilitators of dispersal by non-native species, where environmental characteristics (here pH) then also affect colonization within habitats. An understanding of both dispersal mechanisms and local environmental factors is necessary to better predict invasive species distribution.
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We are grateful to the staff at Buck Island Ranch and Archbold Biological Station for supporting our research and to the anonymous reviewers for comments that improved the manuscript. S. Pierre was supported by the Department of Biology, University of Central Florida (UCF) and the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center. Undergraduate and graduate students from the Department of Biology, UCF helped with field work, and Hilary Swain and Gene Lollis provided logistic support. This paper is contribution No. 174 from the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center.
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