Predator-Induced Life-History Shifts in a Freshwater Snail

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Science  23 Feb 1990:
Vol. 247, Issue 4945, pp. 949-951
DOI: 10.1126/science.247.4945.949


The snail Physella virgata virgata, a widely distributed freshwater pulmonate, was observed to change its life-history characteristics in the presence of the crayfish Orconectes virilis in spring-fed Oklahoma streams. These changes were apparently initiated by a water-borne cue released when crayfish fed on conspecific snails. In the presence of the cue, snails exhibited rapid growth rates and little reproduction until they reached a size of about 10 mm after 8 months. In the absence of the cue, snails typically grew to about 4 mm (3.5 months) and then began reproduction. The chemically inducible shift indicates that the life histories of these snails are phenotypically plastic. By increasing the variance associated with size and age of maturity, prey may increase the likelihood of coexisting with seasonal predators.

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