Biological Invasions

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 231–244 | Cite as

The targeting of large-sized benthic macrofauna by an invasive portunid predator: evidence from a caging study

  • Michael Townsend
  • Andrew M. Lohrer
  • Ivan F. Rodil
  • Luca D. Chiaroni
Original Paper


The Portunid crab Charybdis japonica was first found in Waitemata Harbour, New Zealand, in 2000. It has established breeding populations and has been spreading, yet information on its dietary preferences in New Zealand are unknown. We conducted field caging experiments to elucidate prey choices and potential impacts of Charybdis on benthic communities. We tested the hypothesis that Charybdis would reduce the previously demonstrated positive influence of native pinnid bivalves, Atrina zelandica, on the abundance and richness of surrounding soft-sediment macrofauna. Adult male Charybdis were introduced to cages with and without Atrina that included soft-sediment macrofaunal communities of ambient composition and abundance. After leaving the crabs to feed overnight, changes in community structure (relative to sediments without crabs) were determined by coring the sediment and analysing the resident macrofauna. Prey choices were verified by extracting taxa from the stomachs of crabs collected from the cages in which they had been feeding. The abundance of large taxa including burrowing urchins, bivalves and native crabs was lower in the presence of Charybdis compared to areas without this invader. The stomach contents of Charybdis were dominated by these same three taxa, constituting 85 % of the prey abundance when using stomach fullness as a weighting factor. Our hypothesis was supported with the greatest net losses occurring in cages with Charybdis and Atrina. Reduction in the abundance of Echinocardium cordatum by Charybdis could have cascading ecological effects, as these urchins play a critical role in benthic soft-sediment ecosystems in New Zealand via bioturbation and biogenic disturbance.


Charybdis japonica (Portunidae) Atrina zelandica Diet New Zealand Predation Waitemata Harbour 



We dedicate this paper to Jim Carlton, who continues to inspire and advance a deeper understanding of the ecology, impact, and management of invasions. This research was funded by NIWA under Coasts and Oceans Research Programmes 3 and 4 (2012/13 SCI). I.F.R. acknowledges the financial support by the postdoctoral program Ángeles Alvariño (XUGA). We would like to thank Graeme Inglis for valuable guidance with the manuscript and Naomi Parker and Andrew Bell from the Ministry of Primary Industries for their input. Barry Greenfield and Jamie Armstrong contributed to macrofaunal processing and identification and Scott Edhouse, Dave Bremner and Andy Miller assisted with fieldwork. We thank the NIWA port surveillance team for their support with trapping Charybdis.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Townsend
    • 1
  • Andrew M. Lohrer
    • 1
  • Ivan F. Rodil
    • 2
    • 3
  • Luca D. Chiaroni
    • 1
  1. 1.National Institute of Water and Atmospheric ResearchHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Departamento de Ecología y Biología AnimalUniversidad de VigoVigoSpain
  3. 3.CIIMAR, Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental ResearchUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal

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