The TIDE Project

Melampus Madness

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Kass installs her mesocosm testing the effects of Melampus snails on cordgrass decomposition

Time is flying by and we are already halfway through the field season! I am Kassandra Baron and I am an undergraduate student from Washington & Jefferson College studying Biology. Here at the Marshview field station I work as a research undergraduate student. This summer I am working on the TIDE project as well as carrying out several experiments with an invertebrate commonly found on the high marsh, Melampus.

Melampus bidentatus, the coffee bean snail

Melampus bidentatus, commonly known as the Coffee Bean snail, is a terrestrial air-breathing snail in the family Ellobiidae. This species is relatively small, averaging 9 to 12 mm when fully grown. As a detritivore located on the high marsh, Melampus commonly feeds on Spartina patens and the algae that grows on the stems of these plants. The majority of my project is researching the effects of Melampus density on Spartina patens litter processing. While exploring density effect, I am also pursuing the question on whether or not there is a fertilizer effect. In both of my experiments we are using dead Spartina patens from Sweeney and West creeks and Melampus. Sweeney creek serves as our enriched creek and West creek is used as our reference. By using these two different creeks, we can compare the effect of Melampus on mass loss.

Caging a pre-weighed amount of dead cordgrass and a particular number of snails will help reveal how coffee bean snails contribute to cyclical plant decomposition in the marsh

To better understand whether or not Melampus increases the decomposition rate of Spartina litter that has been nutrient enriched, two experiments were set up. One experiment takes into consideration natural environmental factors and Melampus in its natural habitat. In this experiment, I used decomposition bags made of window screen and placed a known amount of dead Spartina patens and different densities of snails in each bag. These bags were then deployed out in the field at both creeks each containing litter from that creek. For the second experiment, I set up petri dishes. Half of these dishes contained litter from Sweeney creek and the other half West. Each dish had a known mass of detritus and a random density, or number, of Melampus individuals.

At the end of the field season, roughly 8 weeks from now, I will be measuring the mass loss, nitrogen content, phenolic content, particle size, and snail growth for both experiments. All together I hope to gain a better understanding of the importance of this snail on decomposition and determine if nitrogen enrichment and density play a role in the process of decomposition.

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