Previous work on a snail community occurring throughout lakes in southwestern Michigan (USA) showed that predation by molluscivorous sunfish had large impacts on only the rarest snail species. Thus, competition might play a major role in population limitation because dominant members of the snail community are relatively immune to predation. The present experiments were conducted to determine the extent to which the snail community depleted the abundance of food resources (epiphytes) and the extent to which epiphyte abundances limited snail production. An experimental gradient in snail densities showed that removal of snails increased epiphyte biomass by approximately 3-fold relative to that observed at natural snail densities. Enrichment of the environment with phosphorus fertilizer increased epiphyte biomass by approximately 20-fold and provided a test food limitation in the snail community. All snail taxa exhibited positive numerical or growth responses to enrichment. The observations that snails depleted resources and that resources limited snail production demonstrated that snails competed exploitatively for epiphytes. The response of each snail species to increased food abundance differed depending on the timing of fertilization relative to the snails' life histories. Snails hatched before the experiment began were larger in fertilized treatments, due to increased growth, but their densities were similar among treatements. On the other hand, densities of snails born during the experiment were up to 15-fold greater in fertilized treatments, due in part to increased survival of newborn snails. Comparison of the response of snails to food addition and to predator removals (based on prior experiments) suggested that food availability limits snail production more than predators do. Additionally, the large response by algae and snails to fertilization demonstrated that both the producers and herbivores in this simplified food chain were strongly resource limited.
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