Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

UF researchers find link between health of springs and snails


When Dina Liebowitz entered the doctoral program in Interdisciplinary Ecology at the University of Florida in 2007, she knew she wanted to study Florida’s springs.


There was a lot of discussion at the time as to the changing environment of the springs and what was causing those changes, she said.


She said she wanted to “take a stab at trying to figure out some piece of the puzzle.”


Liebowitz, a UF alumna who is currently engaged as a researcher at California Ocean Science Trust, along with researchers at UF and Duke University have discovered a small, but potentially significant player in the health of Florida Springs  — a snail.


After studying 11 springs, the researchers found a correlation between the presence of the Elimia snail and the quantity of algae in a spring.


When a greater number of snails were present in a particular portion of the spring, there was often less algae, Liebowitz said, and vice versa.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox


The snails are grazers, she said, and help control the algae. However, when the algae overwhelm the snail population, the snails are unable to make much progress in controlling the algae.


The relative abundance of snails in a spring’s ecosystem, Liebowitz said, is due in part to the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water and the water flow of the spring.


Dissolved oxygen is what all animals that live in the water breathe and need to survive. Flow refers to the volume of water exiting the springhead.


Both the flow and levels of dissolved oxygen are linked to how Floridians draw upon water from the aquifer and is compounded when Florida experiences drought, she said.


Prior to Liebowitz’s research, little was known about the role of snails or their population in Florida Springs.


The findings were published in the journal of “Freshwater Biology” in July.


Robert Knight, an ecologist and president of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, has been studying Florida springs since the ’80s.


Knight, who has studied Silver Springs extensively, said there appear to be fewer snails present at Silver Springs than in the past.


The Ichetucknee Springs State Park has seen a reduction in various plant life, he said.


The lack of snails, the decline of plant life and the proliferation of algae is due not only to varying levels of dissolved oxygen and flow, as Liebowitz demonstrates, but is also influenced by the nitrate levels found in the water, Knight said.


The most significant change in the water quality of Florida’s springs over the past 30 years has been the nitrate levels, Knight said.


While legislation to protect the springs exists, politics stop much of it from taking effect, Knight said, because none of the plans “have enough teeth.”


Until the nitrate issue is solved, he said, Florida’s springs will continue to be imperiled.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2023 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.