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Distribution of gastropods in floodplain compartments and feeding preferences for river corridor plant species: Is there an effect of gastropod herbivory on the distribution of river corridor plants?

Hensgen, Frank, Albrecht, Christian, Donath, Tobias W., Otte, Annette, Eckstein, R. Lutz
Flora 2011 v.206 no.6 pp. 534-543
Arabis, Deroceras reticulatum, Taraxacum, Viola, biogeography, biomass, community structure, drought, feeding preferences, floodplains, grasslands, habitats, herbivores, palatability, plant response, rivers, seedlings, slugs, species diversity, spring, summer, winter
Herbivory through gastropods has among others been proposed as a potential factor responsible for the river corridor distribution of plant species, which is a well known but poorly understood ecological pattern. Since floodplains are characterised by seasonally changing abiotic conditions, viz. floods during winter and spring and severe summer drought that are unsuitable for gastropods they may present safe habitats for highly palatable plant species. In the present study we compared species composition of gastropods and vegetation of twelve grassland sites situated within three floodplain compartments along the Upper Rhine. Additionally, we studied the palatability of 7 days and 25 days old seedlings of five typical floodplain plant species and five mesic grassland species to the slug Deroceras reticulatum in laboratory experiments. Our results showed that both vegetation and gastropod community composition but not gastropod diversity and abundance differed between floodplain compartments. Owing to omnivory of most gastropods the similarity structure of sites based on plants and gastropods was not significantly correlated. In general, slug herbivory significantly reduced survival and biomass of 7 days old seedlings, but responses were species-specific. In contrast, with the exception of Arabis nemorensis, Viola pumila and Taraxacum sect. Ruderalia biomass of 25 days old seedlings was not significantly affected by slug herbivory. Although the response of floodplain plant species as a group to slug herbivory did not differ from common grassland species, our results suggest that gastropods may potentially influence the distribution pattern of the highly palatable river corridor species Arabis nemorensis and Viola pumila. However, further research is needed to estimate the damage to river corridor plants through gastropod herbivory and its effect on competitive relationships under natural conditions.