Individual- and Assemblage-Level Effects of Anthropogenic Sedimentation on Snails in Lake Tanganyika Academic Article uri icon


  • Human impacts on aquatic biodiversity are often measured at the assemblage or community level, although it has been suggested that individual-level measures are more sensitive. We evaluated the effects of anthropogenic sedimentation on endemic snails in Lake Tanganyika, East Africa, by comparing assemblage-level (i.e., species richness, evenness, and abundance) and individual-level (i.e., frequencies of predation and parasitism, fecal organic content, life history) data between sediment-disturbed and reference sites. Previous studies have indicated that sedimentation kills snails and reduces mollusc diversity in this system, but we found little evidence of changes in species richness, evenness, or snail abundance at the levels of sedimentation recorded. In contrast, individual-level data revealed a variety of differences associated with sedimentation. Frequencies of shell scarring by predatory crabs and castration by parasitic trematodes were significantly lower at disturbed sites, indicating shifts in interspecific interactions. Snails ingested large amounts of inorganic sediments at disturbed sites, suggesting a reduction in food quality. In addition, sedimentation was associated with a large downward shift in size distribution within some species and reproduction at smaller size. These strong patterns in individual-level data contrast with the lack of effects at the assemblage level. We argue that incorporating individual-level measures will often enhance the sensitivity of impact surveys and may reveal effects of disturbance on important interspecific interactions.

publication date

  • February 2005