Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 6, pp 1089–1107 | Cite as

The swimming crab Charybdis smithii: distribution, biology and trophic role in the pelagic ecosystem of the western Indian Ocean

  • Evgeny RomanovEmail author
  • Michel Potier
  • Veniamin Zamorov
  • Frédéric Ménard
Original Paper


Surface “swarms” of the swimming crabs Charybdis smithii are still considered as an unusual phenomenon in the open Indian Ocean, although their dense pelagic aggregations were already reported in waters off the Indian coast and in the northern Arabian Sea. Based on an extensive large-scale data series taken over 45 years, we demonstrate that C. smithii is common in the pelagic provinces of the western Indian Ocean driven by the wind monsoon regime. Swimming crabs are dispersed by the monsoon currents throughout the equatorial Indian Ocean. They aggregate at night in the upper 150-m layer, where their estimated biomass derived from pelagic trawling data can exceed 130 kg km−2. Abundance of C. smithii can reach >15,000 ind. km−2 in July (i.e. the peak of the south-west monsoon), declines by 50-fold in March and is negligible in May. C. smithii is an important prey for more than 30 species of abundant epipelagic top predators. In turn, it feeds on mesopelagic species. This swimming crab is a major species of the intermediate trophic levels and represents a crucial seasonal trophic link in the open ocean ecosystem of the western Indian Ocean. Outbursts in pelagic waters of huge biomasses of ordinarily benthic crustaceans (C. smithii and Natosquilla investigatoris) are a remarkable feature of the Indian Ocean, although similar, but smaller, events are reported in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.


Indian Ocean Western Indian Ocean Carapace Width Yellowfin Tuna Purse Seine 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work, a part of the THETIS program of the IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement), is also supported by the BIOPS project funded by Institut Français de la Biodiversité (no. CD-AOOI-07-013). The authors gratefully thank the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), and the crews of the longliners “Amitié” and “Cap Morgane” for helping us to collect the samples. We would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution of YugNIRO scientists in the long-term sampling of data in the Indian Ocean and the development of the databases used in this paper. One of the authors (Evgeny Romanov) was a member of that research team in 1985–2005. Databases for the SIOTLLRP were created within the framework of the data rescue project developed between YugNIRO and US National Marine Fisheries Service (US NMFS) supported though a grant from NFWF: NOAA Award No. NA87AC0200. We are thankful to Anna Kornilova, who made available for analysis paper archive of stomach contents data for Indian Ocean top predators developed by her mother, Soviet scientist Galina N. Kornilova9 who worked in the YugNIRO from 1958 to 1990. We are indebted to Natalya Romanova for her database management and programming efforts, input of primary data of G. Kornilova and V. Zamorov and for her patience with our numerous requests for data. We are thankful to Dr. Walther W. Kühnhold (vTI, Germany) for his extremely valuable help in obtaining important publications on biology of C. smithii. Our thanks to Hervé Demarcq and Francis Marsac for assistance in processing netCDF climatic data. Critics and suggestions of three anonymous reviewers greatly improved manuscript clarity. Elise Bradbury and David Kaplan provided assistance with the English of the manuscript. Pierre Lopez polished maps and provided advice with graphic work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Evgeny Romanov
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michel Potier
    • 2
  • Veniamin Zamorov
    • 3
  • Frédéric Ménard
    • 1
  1. 1.CRH (Centre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et Tropicale)IRD (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement), UR 109 ThetisSète CedexFrance
  2. 2.IRD, UR 109 ThetisSte Clotilde CedexFrance
  3. 3.I.I. Mechnikov Odessa National University (ONU)OdessaUkraine

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