Biological Invasions

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 347–358 | Cite as

An invasive crab alters interaction webs in a marine community

  • Amanda L. Hollebone
  • Mark E. Hay
Original Paper


Over the last decade, the non-native, filter-feeding crab Petrolisthes armatus invaded oyster reefs of the South Atlantic Bight at densities of thousands m−2. Mesocosm and field experiments demonstrated that P. armatus at ∼10–75% of mean summer densities: (1) suppressed growth of small oysters, biomass of benthic microalgae, and recruitment of native mud crabs, (2) enhanced oyster, mussel, and total bivalve recruitment, macroalgal cover, and survivorship of predatory oyster drills, but (3) did not affect native taxonomic richness. Laboratory feeding assays, field tethering experiments, and population changes in field and mesocosm experiments suggest that P. armatus is a preferred prey for native mud crabs and other consumers, thus relieving predation on native species and enhancing recruitment or survival of bivalves and oyster drills. In contrast, the invasive crab can consume crustacean larvae and via this feeding may suppress recruitment of native mud crabs. Our findings should be conservative given the low densities of P. armatus seeded into experimental plots and our inability to run longer-term experiments due to controls rapidly being colonized by non-native crabs recruiting from the plankton. Invasive crabs commonly impact native communities via predation, but community impacts of this invasive crab may be as much due to its role as a preferred prey of native consumers as to its predation on native prey. Given that oysters are foundation species for shallow reefs in the South Atlantic Bight, the long-term effects of this invasion could be considerable.


Consumer–prey interactions Invasive species Oyster reefs Petrolisthes armatus South Atlantic Bight 



We thank M. Ferner, C. Jordan, C. Kicklighter, J. Long, P. Munguia, C. Robertson, D. L. Smee, and the SkIO Facilities staff for assistance, K. Hollebone for artwork, and M. Miller, T. Snell, J. T. Streelman, and M. Weissburg for comments on the manuscript. Support was provided by EPA STAR (U−915531-01-0) and NOAA NERRS (NA03NOS4200063) Fellowships to A. L. H. with additional funding from the Harry and Linda Teasley Endowment to Georgia Tech.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BiologyGeorgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.School of BiologyGeorgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA

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