Wetlands Ecology and Management

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 93–106 | Cite as

Spatial structure of a leaf-removing crab population in a mangrove of North-Brazil

  • Cyril Piou
  • Uta Berger
  • Ilka C. Feller
Original Paper


The leaf-removing decapod crab, Ucides cordatus plays a key role as ecological engineer in Brazilian mangrove ecosystems. We analyzed the spatial distribution of a specific population at two different scales to observe how individual behavior could alter spatial population structure. First, we conducted a spatial point pattern analysis of the burrow entrances and the Rhizophora mangle prop roots on the mangrove floor at a scale of few meters. Secondly, we analyzed at a large scale (10–100 m) the potential effects of surface elevation, light intensity, prop root coverage, species of neighboring tree (R. mangle, Laguncularia racemosa, Avicennia germinans) and pneumatophore density on the size and number of burrow entrances. At the same large scale, we conducted an analysis of clustering of the crabs around the R. mangle trees. At small scale, the burrow entrances, although aggregated around the prop roots, showed a regularly spaced distribution (∼25 cm) signaling an intraspecific competition among the crabs. At large scale, crabs preferred to install their burrows at an intermediate level of surface elevation and prop root coverage, and in R. mangle-dominated areas. At the same kind of habitats, the largest burrows, and thus potentially the largest crabs, were found in higher number than on other habitats. The R. mangle-dominated areas preference was confirmed by an aggregating around R. mangle trees in R. mangle-dominated forest, but only of large individuals in L. racemosa-dominated forest. These observations lead us to the definition of a preferred habitat for U. cordatus. Competition leading to the small-scale regular patterns was proposed as an explanation for exclusion of smaller crabs from preferred habitats seen at large scale. We hypothesize that this preferred habitat might explain at regional scale the variation of U. cordatus importance in Neotropical mangroves.


Habitat preference Intraspecific competition Mangrove ecology Multiple scales Population structure Spatial statistics Ucides cordatus 



We thank A. deMelo, S. Manuel, D. Araújo, C. D’Lima, M. L. Fontalvo-Herazo, J-P Rossi, A. R. Araujo, I. Nordhaus, K. Diele, M. Protazio and an anonymous reviewer. This study was carried out as a part of the Brazilian-German Cooperation Project MADAM and was financed by the Brazilian National Research Council (CNPq) and the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) under the code 03F0154A. This is MADAM-Contribution No. 117.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Tropical Marine EcologyBremenGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Forest Growth and Forest Computer SciencesDresden University of TechnologyTharandtGermany
  3. 3.Smithsonian Environmental Research CenterEdgewaterUSA

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