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The tropical rocky shore crab Grapsus albolineatus feeds primarily on filamentous algae but eats animal matter whenever it is available. During the summer the crab's diet switches to encrusting algae due to a die-off of filamentous algae. As a result of the switch the nutrients in the diet of the crab vary seasonally and may influence the fitness of the crab. Maintenance, growth, reproductive performance and nutrient storage of crabs were examined under four dietary regimes of increasing nutritional value ranging from low organic to high protein content. The nutritional quality of these diets significantly affected crab survival and moulting. Crabs fed on the nutritionally superior diet of algae and meat exhibited enhanced growth, higher levels of energy in the reproductive organs and stored more energy in the hepatopancreas than did individuals on the shore and crabs fed only on algal diets in the laboratory. Filamentous algae were a better food source than other algae, resulting in fewer deaths and superior levels of maintenance and growth. Growth and maintenance can occur on a pure algal diet, but reproductive performance and nutrient storage require some degree of added nutrients in the form of animal matter in the diet. Crabs fed coralline or foliose algae had higher mortality and fewer successful moults than crabs fed the other two diets. The fitness of G. albolineatus appears to be limited by the amount of extra nutrients obtained from animal matter. The opportunistic consumption of animal material in the form of carrion, or of animals associated with dietary algae, could be a key factor in the reproductive success of this crab.
Oecologia © 1996 Springer