Phenotypic plasticity in the common garden snail: big guts and heavier mucus glands compete in snails faced with the dual challenge of poor diet and coarse substrate
Phenotypic plasticity allows animals to manage environmental challenges. Studies aimed at quantifying plasticity often focus on one challenge, such as diet, and one organ system, such the gastrointestinal tract, but this approach may not adequately reflect how plasticity could buffer multiple challenges. Thus, we investigated the outcomes of a dual challenge experiment that fed land snails either a high-fibre (low quality) or a low-fibre (high quality) diet, and simultaneously exercised them daily over 1.2 m on either a smooth surface of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or a rough sandpaper. By the end of 20 days, snails fed the poor quality diet had a longer crop and oesophagus and a heavier intestine and rectum than those offered a low-fibre diet. Additionally, high-fibre fed snails had a smaller spermoviduct and oviduct. When also exercised on sandpaper, high-fibre fed snails had a smaller digestive gland, a main energy store, than those exercised on PVC. All snails exercised on sandpaper had a heavier pedal mucus gland, used a loping gait and used less mucus than those on PVC plastic, but there was no difference in the average speed of snails on either surface, supporting the conclusion that loping is a mucus conserving gait. Notably, snails faced with both a diet and substrate challenge had a smaller kidney, which could directly effect fecundity. This demonstrates that our dual challenge approach has potential for evaluating the costs and limits of the plasticity necessary to fully appreciate the evolutionary significance of plasticity in snails and other species.