1. Grazing by invasive species can affect many aspects of an aquatic system, but most studies have focused on the direct effects on plants. We conducted mesocosm and laboratory experiments to examine the impact of the invasive apple snail Pomacea canaliculata on macrophytes, filamentous algae, nutrients and phytoplankton.
2. In a freshwater pond, we confined 500 g of Myriophyllum aquaticum or Eichhornia crassipes with 0, 2, 4 or 8 apple snails in 1 m × 1 m × 1 m enclosures for approximately 1 month. Apple snails grazed heavily on both species of macrophytes, with higher overall weight losses at higher snail densities. The damage patterns differed between the two macrophytes. In M. aquaticum, both leaves and stems suffered from substantial herbivory, whereas in E. crassipes, only the roots suffered significant weight reduction.
3. In addition to grazing on macrophytes, apple snails appeared to have controlled the growth of filamentous algae, as these did not develop in the snail treatments. The ability of P. canaliculata to control filamentous algae was supported by a laboratory experiment where the consumption was as high as 0.25 g g−1 snail DW d−1. Because of a lack of native herbivorous snails in the pond, the growth of filamentous algae (mainly Spirogyra sp.) reached 80.3 g m−2, forming a spongy pond scum in the no-apple snail control. Together with previous reports that apple snails could eat the juveniles and eggs of other freshwater snails, our results indicated that P. canaliculata could have out-competed native herbivorous snails from the pond by predation on their juveniles or eggs. Alternatively, P. canaliculata might have out-competed them by monopolisation of food resources.
4. Nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations remained low throughout both experiments and were not correlated with apple snail density. The treatment effects on chlorophyll a (Chl a) and phytoplankton composition varied in the two experiments. In the M. aquaticum experiment, with increasing snail density, Chl a increased, and the phytoplankton community became dominated by Cryptophyceae. In the E. crassipes experiment, Chl a level was independent of snail density, but with increasing snail density, the phytoplankton community became co-dominated by Cryptophyceae, Chlorophyceae and Bacillariophyceae.
5. Given the multiple effects of P. canaliculata on wetland biodiversity and function, management strategies should be developed to prevent its further spread. In invaded wetlands, strategies should be developed to eradicate the apple snail and re-introduce native snails which can control the development of filamentous algae.