Size-selective predation by all-male prawns: implications for sustainable biocontrol of snail invasions.
All-male populations of the freshwater prawn Macrobrachium rosenbergii were recently produced by a novel temporal RNA interference (RNAi)-based biotechnology for aquaculture purposes. This biotechnology opens the way to the wide use of all-male prawn populations as sustainable biocontrol agents against invading populations of freshwater snails, for which there is currently no environmentally friendly solution. Among the most damaging of the invasive freshwater snail species are the apple snails (Pomacea spp.), which inflict major damage on natural ecosystems and rice fields. The proposed use of all-male prawn populations as environmentally friendly biocontrol agents against invasive freshwater snails has several advantages: efficient predation by the prawns over a wide range of freshwater snails, the ready availability of the prawns, and the monosex non-reproductive nature of the biocontrol agents. Since the aquatic predators are strongly size selective, we quantified the predation rate as a function of body size of both predator and prey (M. rosenbergii and P. caniculata). Medium-sized and large prawns (∼10-30 g) efficiently preyed small and medium-sized snails (up to 15 mm), while small prawns (up to 4 g) immediately and completely eradicated snail hatchlings. Medium-sized prawns (∼22 g) exterminated a significant fraction of snail biomass within 24 h (up to 58% of their body mass) after being introduced into a tank of snails. A typical 'climbing-to-the surface' anti-predator behavior of the snails was recorded. The potential of all-male prawns as efficient biocontrol agents over hatchling and adult apple snails as part of an integrated pest management program is discussed. Our experiments set the stage for evaluating the ecological and economic implications of this generic solution for a wide variety of habitats.