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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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Saltmarsh snails (top left) stressed by drought conditions show reduced radula wear and shifts in tooth morphology (e.g. sharper lateral teeth; bottom right), suggesting that fewer resources are invested in maintaining the grazing ap paratus. Climate change is expected to increase drought stress.
Images: K. L. Harris, C. Angelini

Chalifour B, Hoogveld JRH, Derksen-Hooijberg M, Harris KL, Urueña JM, Sawyer WG, van der Heide T, Angelini C


Drought alters the spatial distribution, grazing patterns, and radula morphology of a fungal-farming salt marsh snail

Climate change is altering consumer-plant interactions in ecosystems worldwide. Consumers’ response to climate stress can determine whether their effects on plants intensify or relax. Chalifour and co-authors tested how drought stress influences the interaction between a dominant consumer, the fungal-farming periwinkle snail (Littoraria irrorata), and a foundational plant, cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), in a southeastern US salt marsh. A field experiment manipulating temperature and humidity revealed snails altered their grazing behavior and radula morphology in response to the simulated drought conditions. Snails reduced their grazing behavior, increased their presence on cordgrass stems, and maintained longer radulae with preferentially sharper teeth in lateral or blunter teeth in central areas of the radula, respectively. This study shows consumer responses must be incorporated when considering predicted effects of climate change on consumer-plant interactions.


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