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Competitive and agonistic interactions between the invasive Asian shore crab and juvenile American lobster

Baillie, Christopher J., Grabowski, Jonathan H.
Ecology 2018 v.99 no.9 pp. 2067-2079
Hemigrapsus sanguineus, Homarus americanus, agonistic behavior, coasts, crabs, fauna, habitats, indigenous species, invasive species, juveniles, littoral zone, lobsters, ontogeny, predation, predators, North America
Invasive species can have profound ecological and evolutionary impacts on native fauna, particularly those from overlapping guilds. Intraguild predation and competition often occur simultaneously, and ontogenetic shifts in competitive strength can dictate the magnitude and direction of species interactions. The recent introduction of the Asian shore crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus to the Atlantic coast of North America has resulted in the potential for considerable intraguild interactions with juvenile American lobsters Homarus americanus, with which it now co‐occupies rocky intertidal and shallow subtidal habitats. We present data from 5 yr of monthly (May–October) field sampling revealing a significant decline in lobster density as H. sanguineus density increased in the low intertidal. To investigate potential mechanisms behind this pattern, we conducted three mesocosm experiments designed to examine whether competitive interactions between H. americanus and H. sanguineus are size‐ or density‐dependent. Larger early benthic phase lobsters (16–34 mm CL) outcompeted H. sanguineus for both food and shelter resources. These lobsters fed faster and more in the presence of H. sanguineus, effectively defended shelter, were responsible for the majority of agonistic interactions, and, in multiple instances, killed and consumed H. sanguineus. Effects on sheltering and agonstic interactions by these lobsters were independent of H. sanguineus density; however, prior shelter residency increased lobster agonistic behavior towards crabs. In contrast, H. sanguineus outcompeted smaller, early benthic phase lobsters (7.2–11.2 mm CL) for shelter, and these interactions were density dependent. Displacement of lobsters from shelter by crabs and cumulative agonistic interactions instigated by crabs towards lobsters scaled positively with H. sanguineus density. Given the similarity of the invasion documented here and others occurring globally, these experiments demonstrate the importance of considering how factors such as ontogeny, density‐dependence, and primacy influence the outcomes of interactions between intraguild predators. Disentangling how these factors structure intraguild interactions between invasive and endemic species will both advance our fundamental understanding of community ecology and enhance efforts to conserve and manage natural resources.