MEPS 313:205-213 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps313205

Predation and physical disturbance by crabs reduce the relative impacts of nutrients in a tidal mudflat

Anna R. Armitage1,2,*, Peggy Fong1

1University of California Los Angeles, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 621 Charles E. Young Drive South, Los Angeles, California 90095-1606, USA
2Present address: Florida International University, Southeast Environmental Research Center—OE 148, 11200 SW 8th Street, Miami, Florida 33199, USA

ABSTRACT: We evaluated how links between direct and indirect interactions and physical disturbance shaped trophic dynamics in a soft-sediment benthic estuarine community. We crossed presence of burrow-excavating crabs Pachygrapsus crassipes and nutrient enrichment (nitrogen and phosphorus) in cages containing herbivorous surface-feeding snails Cerithidea californica and benthic microalgae in a tidal mudflat and a tidal sandflat in Mugu Lagoon, southern California, USA. P. crassipes consumed up to 85% of C. californica in enclosures, but there was no evidence of a trophic cascade, as crab reduction of snail density did not increase benthic microalgal biomass. Rather, P. crassipes decreased diatom and cyanobacterial biomass by up to 50% in the mudflat and 80% in the sandflat, probably via bioturbation. Subadult C. californica lengths increased 15 to 20% over 5 wk in treatments without crabs. In the presence of P. crassipes, C. californica lengths increased <5%, probably an indirect result of crab reduction of microalgal food availability or increased snail burial. C. californica may have actively burrowed as an escape response from the crabs, or have been passively buried during crab burrowing activities. Nutrient addition did not reduce snail growth, but increased snail mortality at both sites, possibly a result of nutrient-induced shifts towards toxic or poor nutritive quality cyanobacteria. The top-down impacts of P. crassipes reduced the relative bottom-up effects of nutrients in this habitat, illustrating the importance of evaluating both biotic and abiotic interactions simultaneously. Numerous indirect and non-trophic interactions revealed a community structure that was much more complex than suggested by food web structure.

KEY WORDS: Bioturbation · Epifauna · Indirect interactions · Microphytobenthos · Nutrients · Sediment · Trophic dynamics

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