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Modeling apple snail population dynamics on the Everglades landscape

May 22, 2015

Context

The Florida Everglades has diminished in size and its existing wetland hydrology has been altered. The endangered snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) has nearly abandoned the Everglades, and its prey, the apple snail (Pomacea paludosa), has declined.

Objective

We developed a population model (EverSnail) to understand apple snail response to inter- and intra-annual fluctuations in water depths over the Everglades landscape. EverSnail was developed as a tool to understand how apple snails respond to different hydrologic scenarios.

Methods

EverSnail is an age- and size-structured, spatially-explicit landscape model of P. paludosa in the Everglades. Landscape-level inputs are water depth and air temperature. We conducted sensitivity analyses by running EverSnail with ± 20 % the baseline value of eight parameters.

Results

EverSnail was sensitive to changes in survival and water depth associated with reproduction. The EverSnail population varied with changes and/or differences in depth generally consistent with empirical data; site-specific comparisons to field data proved less reliable. A simulated 3-year wet period resulted in a shift in apple snail distribution, but little change in total abundance over the landscape. In contrast, a simulated 3-year succession of relatively dry years resulted in overall lower snail abundances.

Conclusions

Comparisons of model output to empirical data indicate the need for more data to better understand, and eventually parameterize, several aspects of snail ecology in support of EverSnail. A primary value of EverSnail is its capacity to describe the relative response of snail abundance to alternative hydrologic scenarios considered for Everglades water management and restoration.