Plant diets of land snail community members are similar in composition but differ in richness
Journal of molluscan studies
Herbivore diets are often generalistic, and communities of herbivores tend to share much of their diets. In the tropical lowlands of Malaysian Borneo, tens of different noncarnivorous land snail species are able to coexist in communities on limestone outcrops. We tried to answer the question whether diet differentiation plays a role in their coexistence. We show, with a large metabarcoding study of the plant diet from gut contents of 658 individual snails (from 26 species, with a focus on three
... of the most common species in the region), that the different snail species indeed share much of their plant diet, but that mean diet richness varies strongly among species (up to 15.3×). These differences are mostly explained by snail size, with larger snails having wider diets. Furthermore, phylogenetic analyses of the plant diet by individual snails showed signs of clustering in c. 28% of the individuals, possibly suggesting phylogenetic specialization, although such clustering was weak when diets were considered by species. We discuss how observed trends in diet richness and diet clustering could also be explained by random feeding, with larger species simply eating more or less specifically, and by other, noncompetitive interactions, such as snails avoiding desiccation. Our study shows how to efficiently put the power of metabarcoding to work in unravelling the complex community processes commonly encountered in tropical ecosystems and is thus of substantial relevance to both community ecologists and conservationists.