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The Influence of Crabs on Litter Processing in High Intertidal Mangrove Forests in Tropical Australia

A. I. Robertson and P. A. Daniel
Oecologia
Vol. 78, No. 2 (1989), pp. 191-198
Published by: Springer in cooperation with International Association for Ecology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4218850
Page Count: 8
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The Influence of Crabs on Litter Processing in High Intertidal Mangrove Forests in Tropical Australia
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Abstract

Measurements of litter fall and litter removal by crabs, in conjunction with estimates of litter decay by microbes and tidal export of litter from three high-intertidal mangrove forests were made during a year-long study in tropical northeastern Australia. In forests dominated by Ceriops tagal and Bruguiera exaristata, litter standing stocks remained low on the forest floor (mean 6 g· m-2), although litter fall was high; 822 and 1022 $\text{g}\cdot \text{m}^{-2}\cdot \text{y}^{-1}$, respectively. Sesarmid crabs removed 580 (Ceriops) and 803 (Bruguiera) $\text{g}\cdot \text{m}^{-2}\cdot \text{y}^{-1}$, or 71 and 79%, of the total annual litter fall from the forest floor. Relative to the rate of litter removal by crabs, microbial turnover of whole, unshredded litter was insignificant, accounting for < 1% of annual litter fall. Export of litter by tides was estimated to remove 194 (Ceriops) and 252 (Bruguiera) $\text{g}\cdot \text{m}^{-2}\cdot \text{y}^{-1}$ or 24 and 25% of annual litter fall. In a forest dominated by Avicennia marina, in which an ocypodid crab was more abundant than sesarmids, litter standing stocks were higher (mean 84 g· m-2) and crabs removed less litter; 173 $\text{g}\cdot \text{m}^{-2}\cdot \text{y}^{-1}$ or 33% of the annual litter fall of 519 $\text{g}\cdot \text{m}^{-2}\cdot \text{y}^{-1}$. Microbial turnover of intact litter was more important in the Avicennia forest (168 $\text{g}\cdot \text{m}^{-2}\cdot \text{y}^{-1}$ or 32% of annual litter fall), and tides exported 107 $\text{g}\cdot \text{m}^{-2}\cdot \text{y}^{-1}$ or 21% of litter production. In areas where sesarmid crabs were absent or rare in Ceriops forests, there were significantly higher standing stocks of litter and slower rates of leaf removal. Taking into account the probable assimilation efficiencies of sesarmid crabs feeding on mangrove leaves, we estimate that in Ceriops and Bruguiera forests leaf processing by crabs turns litter over at > 75 times the rate of microbial decay alone, thus facilitating the high sediment bacterial productivity in these forests. The importance of litter processing by crabs increases with height in the intertidal in tropical Australia, in contrast to New World mangrove forests, where the reverse is true.

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