Marine Biology

, Volume 151, Issue 5, pp 1665–1681 | Cite as

Feeding ecology of the mangrove crab Ucides cordatus (Ocypodidae): food choice, food quality and assimilation efficiency

  • Inga NordhausEmail author
  • Matthias Wolff
Research Article


Food preferences, consumption rates and dietary assimilation related to food quality were investigated for the large semi-terrestrial and litter-consuming mangrove crab Ucides cordatus cordatus (Ocypodidae, L. 1763) in northern Brazil. Stomach contents were composed of mangrove leaves (61.2%), unidentified plant material and detritus (28.0%), roots (4.9%), sediment (3.3%), bark (2.5%), and animal material (0.1%). U. cordatus prefers Rhizophora mangle over Avicennia germinans leaves despite a higher nitrogen content, lower carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratio and lower tannin content of the latter. Also, assimilation rates for senescent R. mangle leaves (C: 79.3%, N: 45.4%) were higher than for A. germinans leaves (C: 40.6%, N: 9.1%). Faeces composition indicates that A. germinans leaves were more difficult to masticate and digest mechanically. The leaf-ageing hypothesis, according to which crabs let leaves age in burrows to gain a more palatable and nutritive food, was rejected for U. cordatus since N content, C/N ratio and the abundance of microorganisms did not differ significantly between senescent leaves and leaves taken from burrows. The low microbial biomass on leaf surfaces and in the sediment indicates its minor importance for the nutrition of U. cordatus. It is concluded that high ingestion and assimilation rates of a R. mangle diet together with the consumption of algae allow for a high intake of C, N, and energy. The data suggest that the digestibility of mangrove leaves by U. cordatus is not hampered by tannins. This may have provided a competitive advantage over other leaf-consuming invertebrates unable to digest mangrove litter with high tannin concentrations. Due to the large stock biomass of U. cordatus in the study area, a great amount of finely fragmented faeces is produced (about 7.1 ton dry matter ha−1 year−1 in a R. mangle forest) which is enriched in C, N and bacterial biomass compared to the sediment. The decomposition of mangrove litter, and thus nutrient and energy transfer into the sediment, is greatly enhanced due to litter processing by U. cordatus.


Assimilation Rate Yellow Leaf Tannin Content Senescent Leaf Assimilation Efficiency 
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We thank our Brazilian and German colleagues of the MADAM project. Special thanks to Roberta Kelley Pinheiro Soares, Adriana do Socorro da Costa Gonçalves, João Deusdete and Chico Amancio for many hours of help in the field. We thank Marc Mussmann for kind assistance with the microbiological analyses at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology. Karen Diele and Tim Jennerjahn are thanked for valuable comments on the manuscript. This study was part of the MADAM project, a Brazilian-German cooperation financed by the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq) and the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) under the code 03F0154A. This is MADAM contribution No. 109. The experiments in this study comply with current Brazilian law.


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© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zentrum für Marine TropenökologieBremenGermany

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