River systems worldwide have been modified for human use and the downstream ecological consequences are often poorly understood. In the Colorado River estuary, where upstream water diversions have limited freshwater input during the last century, mollusc remains from the last several hundred years suggest widespread ecological change. The once abundant clam Mulinia modesta has undergone population declines of approximately 94% and populations of predators relying on this species as a food source have probably declined, switched to alternative prey species or both. We distinguish between the first two hypotheses using a null model of predation preference to test whether M. modesta was preyed upon selectively by the naticid snail, Neverita reclusiana, along the estuary’s past salinity gradient. To evaluate the third hypothesis, we estimate available prey biomass today and in the past, assuming prey were a limiting resource. Data on the frequency of drill holes—identifiable traces of naticid predation on prey shells—showed several species, including M. modesta, were preferred prey. Neverita reclusiana was probably able to switch prey. Available prey biomass also declined, suggesting the N. reclusiana population probably also declined. These results indicate a substantial change to the structure of the benthic food web. Given the global scale of water management, such changes have probably also occurred in many of the world’s estuaries.
|Original language||English (US)|
|Journal||Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences|
|State||Published - May 30 2018|
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by funding to G.P.D. (National Science Foundation EAR 1420978) and J.A.S. (Cornell University's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future; Geological Society of America; Paleontological Society; Sigma Xi).
© 2018 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
- Manly’s α
- Predator preference
- Salinity gradient
- Shell-drilling predation