, Volume 141, Issue 4, pp 661–671

Differential seed and seedling predation by crabs: impacts on tropical coastal forest composition


    • Institute of EcologyUniversity of Georgia
    • Organization for Tropical StudiesDuke University
  • C. Ronald Carroll
    • Institute of EcologyUniversity of Georgia
Community Ecology

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-004-1673-5

Cite this article as:
Lindquist, E.S. & Carroll, C.R. Oecologia (2004) 141: 661. doi:10.1007/s00442-004-1673-5


Recently, the importance of seed predation by crabs on mangrove species distributions and densities has been established by several studies. In a tropical coastal terrestrial forest in Costa Rica, we investigated the relative importance of predation by land crabs, Gecarcinus quadratus, and hermit crabs, Coenobita compressus, on measured forest composition through a series of seed removal and seedling establishment experiments. We also used natural light-gaps and adjacent non-gap sites to test how canopy cover affects crab predation (seed removal) and seedling establishment. We found fewer tree species (S=18) and lower densities (seedlings, saplings, and adults) in the coastal zone within 100 m of coastline, than in the inland zone (S=59). Land crab densities were higher in the coastal zone (3.03±1.44 crabs m−2) than in the inland zone (0.76±0.78 crabs m−2), and hermit crabs were not present in the inland zone. Seed removal and seedling mortality also were higher in the coastal zone than in the inland zone, and in the open controls than in the crab exclosures. Mortality of seeds and seedlings was two to six times higher in the controls than exclosures for four of the five experiments. Crabs preferred seeds and younger seedlings over older seedlings but showed no species preferences in the seed (Anacardium excelsum, Enterolobium cyclocarpum, and Terminalia oblonga) and seedling (Pachira quinata and E. cyclocarpum) stages. We conclude that the observed differences in tree densities were caused by differential crab predation pressure along the coastal gradient, while the differences in species composition were due to predator escape (satiation) by seed quantity. Canopy cover did not affect seed removal rates, but did affect seedling survival with higher mortality in the non-gap versus gap environments. In summary, crab predation of seeds and seedlings, and secondarily canopy cover, are important factors affecting tree establishment in terrestrial coastal forests.


Canopy cover Costa Rica Gecarcinus quadratus Gradient Hermit crab

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© Springer-Verlag 2004