Impact scenario for the invasive red king crab Paralithodes camtschaticus (Tilesius, 1815) (Reptantia, Lithodidae) on Norwegian, native, epibenthic prey
- 318 Downloads
Large invasive predators like the king crab, Paralithodes camtschaticus, deserve particular attention due to their potential for catastrophic ecological impact on recipient communities. Conspicuous, epibenthic prey species, such as the slow growing commercial scallop Chlamys islandica, are particularly exposed to the risk of local extinction. A research program integrating experiments and field monitoring is attempting to predict and track the impact of invasive king crab on scallop beds and associated fauna along the north Norwegian coast. The claw gape of the crab shows no limitations in handling the flat-bodied scallop. However, the potential impact of the crab on scallop may depend on the availability of other calcified prey associated with scallop beds, such as the sea star, sea urchin, and blue mussel, all species recorded in the diet of P. camtschaticus. To address this issue, a laboratory experiment on foraging behaviour of P. camtschaticus was conducted. The experimental results show that all size classes of red king crab prefer scallops, but small juveniles and medium sized crabs demonstrate active selection for starfish (Asterias rubens) that equals or surpasses the electivity of the large crab. The selection of sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) and blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) is slightly positive or neutral for the three crab size classes. These results suggest that scallop beds with a rich associated fauna are less vulnerable to red king crabs predation and possibly more resilient than beds with few associated species. Also, crab size distribution is likely relevant for invasion impact, with increasing abundance of small and medium sized crabs being detrimental for alternative calcified prey associated with scallop beds. Successive stages of crab invasion will see an acceleration of scallop mortality rates associated with (i) decreasing availability of alternative prey, due to protracted predation pressure intensified by recruitment of juvenile crabs, and (ii) increased number of large crabs. Estimates of crab density and intake rates suggest that the accelerated loss rates will eventually endanger scallop beds persistence.