Snail herbivory decreases cyanobacterial abundance and lichen diversity along cracks of limestone pavements

Lars Fröberg, Peter Stoll, Anette Baur, Bruno Baur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Herbivores are known to decrease plant species diversity in ecosystems with low productivity. Limestone pavements are low-productive habitats harboring specialized communities of cyanobacteria, and endo- and epilithic lichens exposed to extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations. Pavements of
the Great Alvar (O¨ land, Sweden) are covered by free-living cyanobacteria giving the rock surface a dark color. Based on cyanobacterial abundance along the edges, two types of cracks intersecting the pavements have been described: Type one with abundant cyanobacteria and type two without cyanobacteria resulting in light-colored edges. Erosion and different lengths of inundation by melt water have been suggested to cause the conspicuous differences in community composition and hence color between cracks. We hypothesized that this pattern results from the grazing activity of the cyanobacteria- and lichen-feeding snail Chondrina clienta, which reduces cyanobacterial cover along light-colored cracks and facilitates
endolithic lichens. Three dark and three light-colored cracks were investigated at each of three localities. Crack characteristics (i.e., aspect, width, depth and erosion) and snail density were assessed at the crack level. Cyanobacterial cover and lichen diversity were recorded in 1-cm sections, sampled every 5 cm along eight 160-cm-long transects per crack. Model selection was applied to estimate effects of snail density and distance from crack edges on cyanobacterial abundance and lichen diversity. Crack characteristics explained no differences in cyanobacterial cover or lichen diversity. However, cyanobacterial cover decreased towards the edges of cracks with high snail densities. A transplant experiment supported the
correlational evidence. The abundant cyanobacterial cover on pieces of stone placed close to cracks with high snail densities was completely grazed within 19 months. By contrast, cyanobacteria recolonized
initially completely grazed pieces of stone when fixed near cracks without snails. Abundance and diversity of endolithic lichens increased along cracks with high compared to low snail densities but decreased in
epilithic lichens and lichens with cyanobacterial symbionts. However, the presence of the gastropod herbivore decreased overall lichen diversity. Comparing presence-absence matrices with null models revealed that species co-occurred less frequently than expected. Taken together, we provide evidence that herbivory indirectly released endolithic lichens from competition for light by reducing cyanobacterial cover.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-43
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Botany


  • bioweathering
  • cyanobacteria
  • epilithic lichen
  • herbivory
  • spatial pattern.


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