Biological Invasions

, Volume 21, Issue 12, pp 3607–3618 | Cite as

Habitat alteration by invasive European green crab (Carcinus maenas) causes eelgrass loss in British Columbia, Canada

  • Brett R. HowardEmail author
  • Fiona T. Francis
  • Isabelle M. Côté
  • Thomas W. Therriault
Original Paper


Dominant, habitat-forming plant species, such as seagrasses, are key components of coastal ecosystems worldwide. Multiple stressors, including invasive species that directly alter, remove, or replace the foundation plant species, threaten these ecosystems. On the Atlantic coast of North America, ecosystem engineering by invasive European green crab (Carcinus maenas) has been linked to the loss of some eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds. However, the interaction of the same co-occurring species on the Pacific coast has not been investigated. We conducted an enclosure experiment in Barkley Sound, British Columbia, to determine if the engineering impacts of green crabs on Pacific eelgrass ecosystems mirror those previously identified on the Atlantic coast. Eelgrass shoot density declined rapidly over 4 weeks, with a 73–81% greater loss in enclosures with high crab density compared to the low-density and control treatments. The low ratio of eelgrass blades to rhizomes in the high-density treatment suggests that blade shredding, rather than bioturbation of whole plants, was the main mechanism of eelgrass loss. Eelgrass was detected in green crab stomach contents, consistent with observations from the Atlantic coast. Crab density did not have a detectable effect on the biomass or community composition of benthic fauna associated with eelgrass over the duration of the experiment. The eelgrass loss we observed was consistent with losses observed on the Atlantic coast, which raises management concerns on the Pacific coast, particularly in areas where green crabs co-occur with other coastal stressors and with ecologically and economically important species such as salmon.


Habitat alteration Aquatic conservation Disturbance Ecosystem engineering Enclosure Zostera marina 



We thank Dickson Wong, Sarah Calbick, Kyla Jeffrey, Emma Atkinson, Andrew Bateman, Helen Yan, and Elizabeth Oishi for their help, and the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre for logistical support.


The study was funded by the Second Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network (CAISN II) (BRH, IMC, TWT), a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant (IMC), an NSERC - Canada Graduate Scholarships-Doctoral award (FTF), and the Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Aquatic Invasive Species program (TWT).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10530_2019_2072_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (92 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 92 kb)
10530_2019_2072_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (13 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth to Ocean Research Group, Department of Biological SciencesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Fisheries and Oceans CanadaPacific Biological StationNanaimoCanada

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