Wetlands often support a variety of juxtaposed habitat patches (e.g., grass-, shrub- or tree-dominated) differentially suited to support the inhabiting fauna. The proportion of available habitat types has been affected by human activity and consequently has contributed to degrading habitat quality for some species. The Florida apple snail (Pomacea paludosa) has drawn attention as a critical prey item for wetlands wildlife and as an indicator of wetlands restoration success in peninsular Florida, USA. An apparent contradiction has evolved wherein this species appears intolerant of drying events, but these disturbances may be necessary to maintain suitable habitat structure for apple snails. We recently reported that assertions regarding intolerance to dry downs in this species were inaccurate. Here, we compared snail density in habitats with (wet prairie) and without (slough) emergent macrophytes, as well as evaluating the effects of structural attributes within the broad wet prairie habitat type. Snail densities were greater in prairies relative to sloughs (χ2 = 12.90, df = 1, P = 0.0003), often by a factor of two to three. Within wet prairie habitats, we found greater snail densities in Panicum hemitomon as compared to Eleocharis cellulosa (χ2 = 31.45, df = 1, P = 0.0001). Significantly fewer snails were found in dense E. cellulosa as compared to habitats with lower stem density (χ2 = 10.73, df = 1, P = 0.011). Our results indicate that wet prairie habitat supports greater snail densities than Nymphaea-dominated slough. Our results have implications for wetlands water management in that continuous inundation has been shown to convert wet prairie to slough habitat, and we suggest this should be avoided in support of apple snails and their predators.
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Vol. 26 • No. 4