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The impact of yellow shore crabs,Hemigrapsus oregonensis, on Early Benthic Phase dungeness crabs,Cancer magister, in intertidal oyster shell mitigation habitat

Abstract

Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) megalopae recruit to northeastern Pacific coastal estuaries, and settle into intertidal and subtidal habitats where they molt into Early Benthic Phase (EBP) crabs, and are dependent on epibenthic structure for shelter from predation. Given the importance of shell refuge to their post-settlement ontogeny, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began constructing intertidal plots of oyster shell in the Grays Harbor estuary, Washington, to enhance recruitment and mitigate losses of subtidalC. magister entrained and killed during extensive dredging efforts. When shell habitat was newly constructed, settlement and survival ofC. magister were high, and expectations for the mitigation project were met. During the first several years (1992-1997), plots greater than 1 yr postconstruction were colonized by yellow shore crabs,Hemigrapsus oregonensis (often≥75 crabs m−2, and abundance of EBPC. magister was reduced to nearly zero. While some predation of settling megalopae byH. oregonensis does occur, the relationship between these species is characterized by density-dependent competitive interactions. Laboratory observations of competition for shell habitat indicate thatH. oregonensis are dominant over EBPC. magister and can evictC. magister from refuge spaces. Field experiments show that high densities of the former cause, the latter to emigrate from shell, and suggest detection and avoidance of areas with high densities ofH. oregonensis by settlingC. magister megalopae. More recently (1998-2001), abundance ofH. oregonensis has declined dramatically within plots of oyster shell, apparently due to recruitment failure, and patterns ofC. magister abundance and production have returned to levels consistent with original expectations of the mitigation project. Both intraspecific and interspecific competition for space are significant factors effecting population, regulation ofC. magister when they are strongly dependent on refuge from predation. Efficacy of constructed oyster shell plots as a mitigation tool may hinge on the population dynamics of a species previously considered of little consequence to the target species.

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Visser, E.P., McDonald, P.S. & Armstrong, D.A. The impact of yellow shore crabs,Hemigrapsus oregonensis, on Early Benthic Phase dungeness crabs,Cancer magister, in intertidal oyster shell mitigation habitat. Estuaries 27, 699–715 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02907654

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Keywords

  • Blue Crab
  • Oyster Shell
  • Oyster Reef
  • Shore Crab
  • Mitigation Project