Prerequisites for flying snails: external transport potential of aquatic snails by waterbirds

C.H.A. Van Leeuwen, G. Van der Velde

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The widespread distributions of aquatic species often contrast with their limited ability to disperse by their own propulsion among wetlands isolated by land. Studies of the potential role of water birds as dispersal vectors have been focused mainly on internal transport (endozoochory). However, many anecdotal observations that small species adhere to flying birds also exist (ectozoochory). We addressed the hypothesis that ectozoochory may contribute to the widespread distributions of aquatic snails (Gastropoda) in several experiments. We tested the likelihood that snails would attach to mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) leaving macrophyte vegetation with high densities of 3 snail species. All species tested (Gyraulus albus, Anisus vortex, and Radix balthica) readily attached to the mallards’ bodies. The rate of attachment was proportional to snail density, and the birds’ feathers contained most snails. However, Oof the snails detached when mallards subsequently walked for 3 m. Snails of 12 species attached within minutes to any surroundings available when floating in the water, a result indicating that active crawling onto birds may facilitate dispersal. Snails we attached deliberately to duck bills with mud could remain attached for up to 8 h. We measured desiccation tolerance of 13 common aquatic snail species. Almost all snail species survived 48 h of desiccation at 10 to 20uC. The ability to retain water did not differ between species with an operculum and species that form a mucus layer (epiphragm) in their shell openings. Our experiments indicate that aquatic snails possess a range of prerequisites for successful bird-mediated dispersal, but the capacity of snails (and other propagules) to remain attached during flight and successfully colonize new habitats upon arrival must still be assessed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)963-972
JournalFreshwater Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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