Interference competition as a key determinant for spatial distribution of mangrove crabs

Stefano Cannicci, Marco Fusi, Filippo Cimó, Farid Dahdouh-Guebas, Sara Fratini

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24 Scopus citations


The spatial distribution of mangrove crabs has been commonly associated with tree zonation and abiotic factors such as ground temperature and soil granulometry. Conversely, no studies were designed to investigate the role of competition for resources and predation in shaping crab distribution in mangroves, despite these biotic factors are recognised as key determinants for spatial patterns observed in the communities colonising rocky and sandy intertidal habitats.We studied floral and faunal assemblages in two zones of a Sri Lankan mangrove, a man-made upper intertidal level and a natural eulittoral, mid-shore one. Leaf choice experiments were designed to study both feeding rate and intra and inter-specific interactions for food of sesarmid crabs in the two habitats in order to better understand crab spatial distribution.The two intertidal belts differed in terms of floral composition and crab species abundance. The eulittoral zone was strongly dominated by Neosarmatium smithi, while within the elevated littoral fringe four sesarmids (N. smithi, N. asiaticum, N. malabaricum and Muradium tetragonum) were more evenly distributed. At both levels, all sesarmids showed to collect significantly more Bruguiera spp. and Rhizophora apiculata leaves than Excoecaria agallocha ones. There was no temporal segregation in feeding activity among the four species, resulting in a high interference competition for leaves. Regardless of the habitat, N. smithi was always successful in winning inter-specific fights.Our results showed that the elevated littoral fringe was more crowded with crabs, but was less favourable in terms of food availability and environmental conditions. The dominance of N. smithi in gathering mangrove leaves suggests that this species may segregate the other sesarmids into less favourable habitats. The present data strongly suggest for the first time that interference competition for food can contribute to shape mangrove crab spatial distribution.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalBMC Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 15 2018

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: Funds are from a FIRB project (Italian MIUR) “Mangrove fauna and flora: pattern of reproductive biology and dispersal mechanisms” to Stefano Cannicci and from the Belgian National Science Foundation and from the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) to Farid Dahdouh Guebas. Funding bodies had no role in the study design, in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, in writing the manuscript or the decision to submit the paper for publication.


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