Freshwater snails usually possess thin unadorned shells lacking structural components such as spines. Exceptions can be found on the high, well-watered islands of the South Pacific. Streams on these islands support a rich freshwater molluscan fauna with several nerite taxa (Neritimorpha: Neritidae) exhibiting extremely long dorsal spines. We sought to assess the defensive capacity of these structures for several co-occurring nerite genera on the Island of Ovalau, Fiji. Our overarching hypothesis was that spines confer a defensive advantage. We tested four predictions for eight common taxa: (i) predator “rich” habitats (the creek entrance) would be dominated by spine-bearing nerites, (ii) spine-bearing species should be smaller in size, (iii) nerites with spines would exhibit lower levels of shell damage and (iv) nerites with spines should invest less in their shells (i.e., their shells should be thinner). Most of these predictions received support. Spine-bearing species dominated the entrance to the creek and were smaller in size. Levels of shell damage were low overall, with 2 of the 3 spinose taxa exhibiting no shell damage, as did many of the nonspinose taxa. Finally, shells of spinose species were 25% thicker, demonstrating increased rather than decreased investment. Taken together, these findings suggest that the elaborate spines of Clithon spp. play a defensive role.
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