Palatability of macrophytes to the invasive freshwater snail Pomacea canaliculata: differential effects of multiple plant traits


Jian-Wen Qiu, Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, China.E-mail:


1. By selective grazing, invasive grazers can alter macrophyte-herbivore relationships in shallow freshwater bodies. Evaluating the palatability of macrophytes and understanding the determinants of plant palatability can help predict grazing impact. In no-choice feeding assays, we tested the palatability of 21 species of freshwater macrophytes to the invasive freshwater apple snail Pomacea canaliculata.

2. Daily feeding rate varied greatly with plant species, ranging from 1.1 to 22% of snail body mass. We assessed six plant properties and examined their correlation with feeding rate. Total nitrogen content was positively related, and C:N ratio and dry matter content (DMC) negatively related, to snail feeding rate. There was no significant correlation between snail feeding rate and plant phenolic content, but the feeding rate on Myriophyllum aquaticum (the plant with the highest phenolic content) was very low.

3. We repeated the feeding assays for 15 species that were not palatable as fresh leaves with reconstituted plant tissues formed by mixing ground up dried leaves with agar. The feeding rate still differed greatly among macrophyte species. Phragmites australis and Vallisneria natans (two species with the highest DMC) were eaten much more as reconstituted plant than as fresh leaves, indicating that structure (i.e. DMC) may be important in their defence against snail herbivory. For two plants (M. aquaticum and Alternanthera philoxeroides) that had moderate amounts of nitrogen/phosphorus but were consumed very little as fresh and reconstituted tissues, we incorporated their extracts into a palatable agar-based food. The extracts from both species greatly reduced snail feeding rate, indicating the presence of chemical defences in these two species.

4. These results indicated that feeding was affected by several plant traits. The snail favoured plants with a high nitrogen content and avoided plants with a high DMC. Only a few plants possessed chemical feeding deterrents that were effective against this snail. Given the invasive spread of P. canaliculata in Asia, ecologists and managers should consider plant palatability when selecting plants for use in wetland restoration and when predicting the impact of further invasion by this species.