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Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Report

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We studied positive and negative effects of snail consumers on their resource to determine if positive consumer effects may be facilitating invasion. Consumer- resource interactions often focus on losses to the resource, even though the resource might benefit if consumers recycle nutrients. The New Zealand mudsnail, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, an exotic in western U.S. rivers, attains high densities and dominates macroinvertebrate communities. In one well-studied river, it consumes the majority of primary productivity, cycles most nitrogen and can grow faster at higher densities. In field experiments, we tested the hypothesis that this invasive grazer stimulates algal growth via nitrogen excretion, which might explain its self-facilitation and invasiveness. Using in-stream cages subdivided into "with snails" and "without snails" sections, we examined the response of periphytic algae to snail grazing and excretion and snail excretion alone at various levels of snail biomass. We found that chlorophyll a and GPP (gross primary production) decreased as the biomass of snails increased in the grazed sections. Snail excretion, in the absence of grazing, increased both chlorophyll a and GPP, demonstrating a positive effect of snails on the resource, consistent with the nutrient recycling and enrichment hypothesis. We found no evidence for increased algal growth at intermediate snail densities in grazed treatments, as predicted by the Herbivore Optimization Curve hypothesis. However, the difference in chlorophyll a between "with snails" and "without snails" treatments increased as snail biomass increased. This suggests that snail compensation of the resource, through excretion, decreases at extremely high levels of grazing pressure and the net effect of snail grazing becomes negative. Together, these results suggest that invasiveness in some rivers may be fostered by this self-facilitation and recycling of essential nutrients.