Effects mangrove conversion to pasture on density and shell size of two gastropods in the Turbo River Delta (Urabá Gulf, Caribbean coast of Colombia). Mangrove deforestation is widespread in the Greater Caribbean but its impact on macrobenthos has not been evaluated to date. In order to assess the impact of mangrove conversion to pasture, densities and shell sizes of two dominant gastropods (Neritina virginea and Melampus coffeus) were compared among four mangrove types: 1) Rhizophora mangle-dominated fringing mangroves, 2) Avicennia germinans-dominated basin mangroves, 3) Mixed-species basin mangroves, and 4) A. germinans- basin mangroves converted to pastures, in the Turbo River Delta (Urabá Gulf, Colombia). Mangrove types were polygon-delimited with satellite images and color aerial photographs were taken in 2009. Various (n<5) polygons per mangrove type were sampled in January, July and December 2009, and a total (n<20) 0.025m2-quadrats were randomly placed along each polygon. Forest structure variables, pore-water physicochemical variables and sediment-grain metrics were measured in the four mangrove types. Mean density and size of both gastropod species were measured. The results showed that the mean density and size of both species were significantly greater in R. mangle-fringing mangroves. N. virginea density decreased gradually towards the A. germinans-basin mangroves seemly related to the diadromous life-history. This species nearly disappeared in the neighboring pastures because individuals were constrained to a few remaining flooded areas. In the pastures, M. coffeus individuals were clumped in the remaining A. germinans trees due to its climbing behavior as a pulmonate. We hypothesize that the decline of these two gastropods was related to physical microhabitat (e.g. trees, prop roots, and seedlings) degradation, and alteration of soil properties (e.g. temperature, pH, organic matter content). Finally, we also hypothesize that the local extinction of N. virginea due to clear-cutting may exert strong negative effects on the ecosystem function because it is a dominant omnivore.
Keywords: mangrove deforestation, reclamation, neritina virginea, melampus coffeus, urabá gulf, caribbean coast of colombia