Periphytic food and predatory crayfish: relative roles in determining snail distribution
In the laboratory and field, we examined how periphyton (food of snails) and predatory crayfish influenced snail distribution in Trout Lake, a permanent, northern Wisconsin lake. Laboratory experiments (with no crayfish) tested the importance of periphyton biomass in determining snail preference among rocks, and among rock, sand, and macrophyte substrates. Among rocks with four different amounts of periphyton, periphyton biomass and the number of Lymnaea emarginata, Physa spp., and Amnicola spp. were positively related. A similar, but non-significant, trend occurred for Helisoma anceps. A field experiment at a site in Trout Lake where predation risk was low confirmed the preference by snails for periphyton covered rocks; more snails colonized rocks with periphyton than rocks without. When given a choice of rock, sand, and macrophytes in the laboratory, L. emarginata preferred high periphyton biomass and rock. Laboratory and field results contrasted with the distribution of snails in Trout Lake; no snails occurred in areas with abundant periphyton-covered rocks, but snails were abundant nearby on scattered rocks with little periphyton. However, where snails were absent, crayfish were abundant (14.5 crayfish-trap-1-day-1), and where snails were abundant, crayfish were rare (3.2 crayfish-trap-1-day-1), suggesting that crayfish predation reduced snails. The hypothesis that the negative association between snail and periphyton biomass resulted from snail grazing was supported by the results of a field snail enclosure-exclosure experiment (1 m2 cages; n=3). All experiments and observations therefore suggest that: 1) crayfish predation is more important than a preference for high periphyton biomass in determining snail distribution in Trout Lake; 2) periphyton biomass is negtively related to snail grazing; and 3) crayfish had a positive indirect effect on periphyton by preying on grazing snails.