Effects of Chaetogaster limnaei limnaei (Oligochaeta, Tubificidae) on freshwater snail communities


From laboratory studies, the relationship between the oligochaete Chaetogaster limnaei limnaei (CL) and its freshwater snail hosts is known to be context-dependent, ranging from mutualistic to parasitic. We monitored snail communities of seven streams in Germany during three seasons of a year and investigated infestation by CL. Some snail species never were infested. In snail species that were infested, size, substratum type, oxygen concentration and species identity were the most important variables explaining the variance in CL infestation. Independent of individual snail size, Bithynia tentaculata, Ancylus fluviatilis and Acroloxus lacustris showed the highest CL abundances. Across species, CL abundances were highest in large individuals on silty substratum at well-oxygenated sites. Reproductive success of snail populations was estimated from proportion of juveniles in populations. This measure of reproductive success of snail populations was inversely related with CL infestation level. These results suggest that CL infestation affects aquatic snails at the population and community level in the field. Differential infestation levels and different impacts of CL infestation between species lead to an asymmetric distribution of positive and negative effects among all snail species present in a habitat. Thus, CL may be an overlooked agent in structuring snail communities.