, Volume 184, Issue 1, pp 205–218 | Cite as

Competition with stone crabs drives juvenile spiny lobster abundance and distribution

  • Donald C. Behringer
  • John E. Hart
Community ecology – original research


Interspecific competition is assumed to have a strong influence on the population dynamics of competing species, but is not easily demonstrated for mobile species in the wild. In the Florida Keys (USA), anecdotal observations have long pointed to an inverse relationship in abundance of two large decapod crustaceans found co-occurring in hard-bottom habitat, the stone crab Menippe mercenaria and the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus. We used them to explicitly test whether competition for a renewable resource (shelter) can drive the abundance and distribution of the inferior competitor. We first explored this relationship in shelter competition mesocosm experiments to determine the competitively dominant species. Results showed that stone crabs are clearly the dominant competitors regardless of the number of lobsters present, the presence of co-sheltering species such as the spider crab, Damithrax spinosissimus, or the order of introduction of competitors into the mesocosm. We also found that lobsters use chemical cues from stone crabs to detect and avoid them. We then tested the ramifications of this competitive dominance in the field by manipulating stone crab abundance and then tracking the abundance and distribution of spiny lobsters through time. Increased stone crab abundance immediately resulted in decreased lobster abundance and increased aggregation. The opposite occurred on sites where stone crabs were removed. When we stopped removing stone crabs from these sites, they soon returned and lobster abundance decreased. This study explicitly demonstrated that interspecific competition can drive population dynamics between these species, and ultimately, community composition in these shallow water habitats.


Competition Community ecology Panulirus argus Menippe mercenaria 



We thank D. Cleveland, J. Anderson, R. Squibb, B. Gutzler, C. Butler, J. Butler, and J. Spadaro for field and laboratory assistance. J. Hart was partially supported by a graduate research assistantship from the University of Florida School of Natural Resources and the Environment. This research was supported by NOAA Florida Sea Grant College Program grant R/LR-B-65 and National Science Foundation grant OCE-0928398 to DCB.

Author contribution statement

DCB and JEH conceived and designed the study, JEH conducted the experiments, and DCB and JEH wrote the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Program in Fisheries and Aquatic SciencesUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.School of Natural Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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