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Camouflaged or tanned: plasticity in freshwater snail pigmentation.

  • Johan Ahlgren
  • Xi Yang
  • Lars-Anders Hansson
  • Christer Brönmark
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Pages: 4-20130464
Publication/Series: Biology letters
Volume: 9
Issue: 5
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

By having phenotypically plastic traits, many organisms optimize their fitness in response to fluctuating threats. Freshwater snails with translucent shells, e.g. snails from the Radix genus, differ considerably in their mantle pigmentation patterns, with snails from the same water body ranging from being completely dark pigmented to having only a few dark patterns. These pigmentation differences have previously been suggested to be genetically fixed, but we propose that this polymorphism is owing to phenotypic plasticity in response to a fluctuating environment. Hence, we here aimed to assess whether common stressors, including ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and predation, induce a plastic response in mantle pigmentation patterns of Radix balthica. We show, in contrast to previous studies, that snails are plastic in their expression of mantle pigmentation in response to changes in UVR and predator threats, i.e. differences among populations are not genetically fixed. When exposed to cues from visually hunting fish, R. balthica increased the proportion of their dark pigmentation, suggesting a crypsis strategy. Snails increased their pigmentation even further in response to UVR, but this also led to a reduction in pattern complexity. Furthermore, when exposed to UVR and fish simultaneously, snails responded in the same way as in the UVR treatment, suggesting a trade-off between photoprotection and crypsis.


  • Ecology
  • inducible defence
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • pigmentation patterns
  • ultraviolet
  • predator threat


  • BECC
  • ISSN: 1744-9561
Lars-Anders Hansson
E-mail: lars-anders [dot] hansson [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Aquatic ecology

+46 46 222 41 69






Research group

Aquatic Ecology

Other projects I´m involved in

Doctoral students and postdocs

PhD students, main supervisor

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