Doctor of Philosophy
Joel C. Trexler
Timothy M. Collins
Evelyn E. Gaiser
Mary E. Power
Everglades, grazers, Pulmonate snails, phenotypic plasticity, geometric morphometrics, karst wetlands, life history, predator, prey
Date of Defense
The origins of population dynamics depend on interplay between abiotic and biotic factors; the relative importance of each changing across space and time. Predation is a central feature of ecological communities that removes individuals (consumption) and alters prey traits (non-consumptive). Resource quality mitigates non-consumptive predator effects by stimulating growth and reproduction. Disturbance resets predator-prey interactions by removing both. I integrate experiments, time-series analysis, and performance trials to examine the relative importance of these on the population dynamics of a snail species by studying a variety of their traits. A review of ninety-three published articles revealed that snail abundance was much less in the Everglades and similar ecosystems compared to all other freshwater ecosystems considered. Separating consumptive from non-consumptive (cues) predator effects at different phosphorous levels with an experiment determined that phosphorous stimulated, but predator cues inhibited snail growth (34% vs. 23%), activity (38% vs. 53%), and reproductive effort (99% vs. 90%) compared to controls. Cues induced taller shells and smaller openings and moved to refugia where they reduced periphyton by 8%. Consumptive predator effects were minor in comparison. In a reciprocal transplant cage experiment along a predator cue and phosphorous gradient created by a canal, snails grew 10% faster and produced 37% more eggs far from the canal (fewer cues) when fed phosphorous-enriched periphyton from near the canal. Time-series analysis at four sites and predator performance trials reveal that phosphorous-enriched regions support larger snail populations, seasonal drying removes snails at all sites, crayfish negatively affect populations in enriched regions, and molluscivorous fish consume snails in the wet season. Combining these studies reveals interplay between resources, predators, and seasonality that limit snail populations in the Everglades and lead to their low abundance compared to other freshwater ecosystems. Resource quality is emerging as the critical factor because improving resources profoundly improved growth and reproduction; seasonal drying and predation become important at times and places. This work contributes to the general understanding in ecology of the relative importance of different factors that structure populations and provides evidence that bolsters monitoring efforts to assess the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan that show phosphorous enrichment is a major driver of ecosystem change.
Ruehl, Clifton B., "The Interactive Effects of Predators, Resources, and Disturbance on Freshwater Snail Populations from the Everglades" (2010). FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 266.