Indirect effects of heavy metals on parasites may cause shifts in snail species compositions.
We studied the direct and indirect effects of pollution on the distributions and abundances of two closely related species of pulmonate freshwater snails. Physella columbiana is more numerous at heavy metal-polluted lakes, and Lymnaea palustris is more numerous at reference lakes. Both species are present at all sites, as are predatory bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). The direct effects examined included the snails' growth and reproduction in both the presence and absence of heavy metals and their short-term survival when exposed to large concentrations of heavy metals. The indirect effects were the species' ability to elude capture by sunfish and the diversity and abundance of parasites within the snails. We found that heavy metals had little direct effect on growth and reproduction and that both species acquired similar levels of metals in their tissues. Interestingly, P. columbiana (the more abundant species in polluted lakes) actually exhibited higher recruitment in the absence of metals than did L. palustris (reference lakes). L. palustris has life history characteristics that favor increased growth and reduced reproduction. These characteristics resulted in decreased predation of adults by gape-limited predators and a greater ability to cope with heavy parasite burdens. P. columbiana exhibited slower growth, which resulted in increased predation although higher reproduction rates may compensate.The major effect of heavy metals on species distributions was indirect on the snails' parasites. Parasites appeared to be very susceptible to metals, and this resulted in lower parasite diversity and intensities at polluted sites for both species of snails. P. columbiana may only be able to outcompete L. palustris at polluted sites due to the indirect effects of heavy metals; the negative effect of heavy metals on parasites, and a proposed negative effect of metals on the foraging ability of sunfish that favors the faster-reproducing P. columbiana.
Lefcort, H; Aguon, MQ; Bond, KA; Chapman, KR; Chaquette, R; Clark, J; Kornachuk, P; Lang, BZ; Martin, JC
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