Distribution of an alien aquatic snail in relation to flow variability, human activities and water quality


 Sabine Schreiber, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Sustainability and Environment, PO Box 137, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia. E-mail:


1. Disturbance and anthropogenic land use changes are usually considered to be key factors facilitating biological invasions. However, specific comparisons of invasion success between sites affected to different degrees by these factors are rare.

2. In this study we related the large-scale distribution of the invading New Zealand mud snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) in southern Victorian streams, Australia, to anthropogenic land use, flow variability, water quality and distance from the site to the sea along the stream channel.

3. The presence of P. antipodarum was positively related to an index of flow-driven disturbance, the coefficient of variability of mean daily flows for the year prior to the study.

4. Furthermore, we found that the invader was more likely to occur at sites with multiple land uses in the catchment, in the forms of grazing, forestry and anthropogenic developments (e.g. towns and dams), compared with sites with low-impact activities in the catchment. However, this relationship was confounded by a higher likelihood of finding this snail in lowland sites close to the sea.

5. We conclude that P. antipodarum could potentially be found worldwide at sites with similar ecological characteristics. We hypothesise that its success as an invader may be related to an ability to quickly re-colonise denuded areas and that population abundances may respond to increased food resources. Disturbances could facilitate this invader by creating spaces for colonisation (e.g. a possible consequence of floods) or changing resource levels (e.g. increased nutrient levels in streams with intense human land use in their catchments).