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Ecology. 2006 Apr;87(4):1038-47.

Habitat-specific variation and performance trade-offs in shell armature of New Zealand mudsnails.

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  • 1Ohio State University, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, 1680 University Drive, Mansfield, Ohio 44906, USA.


Studies documenting phenotypic variation among populations show that ecological performance in one activity is sometimes traded off against another. Identifying environment-specific costs and benefits associated with performance trade-offs is fundamental to knowing how conflicting selection pressures shape phenotype-environment matching in populations. We studied phenotypic variation in shell armature (spininess) of the New Zealand mudsnail, Potamopyrgus antipodarum (Gray), and explored how this variability relates to performance trade-offs between flow resistance and predator deterrence. Smooth- and spiny-shell morphotypes exist in populations in New Zealand streams and lakes, but the patterns and correlates of spatial variation of these phenotypes, and the possible hydrodynamical constraints and antipredatory benefits associated with spiny shell armature, are unknown. Samples from 11 rivers and nine lakes on the South Island showed that, on average, nearly 70% of snails in streams were smooth-shelled, whereas >80% of snails in lakes were spiny, suggesting dissimilar selective pressures between habitats. A laboratory flume experiment revealed that spines collected seston (i.e., suspended algae) at current speeds <40 cm/s, making spiny morphs more prone to flow-induced dislodgment than smooth morphs. However, a fish feeding experiment showed that one benefit of spines on shells was a decrease in predation risk from the common bully (Gobiomorphus cotidianus), a widespread predator of mudsnails in both streams and lakes. All snails egested by bullies were dead, further suggesting that these fishes may exert strong lethal effects on mudsnail populations in nature. Spine expression in lakes also appeared to be temperature related. We conclude that functional trade-offs between risk of flow-induced dislodgment and risk of fish predation affect shell armature frequencies of Potamopyrgus in freshwater habitats.

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