Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 11, pp 2255–2266 | Cite as

Fiddler crab burrowing affects growth and production of the white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) in a restored Florida coastal marsh

  • Nancy F. Smith
  • Christie Wilcox
  • Jeannine M. Lessmann
Original Paper


Positive plant–animal interactions are important in community ecology, but relatively little attention has been paid to their effect on the production of mangroves, dominant halophytic trees in tropical coastal marshes. Here, the role of fiddler crab (Uca spp.) burrowing on the growth and production of the white mangrove, Laguncularia racemosa (<2 years old), was examined in a restored marsh in Tampa Bay, Florida (27°41.65 N, 82°30.34 W) with manipulative experiments from June 2006 to May 2007. Fiddler crab burrowing significantly increased mangrove height by 27%, trunk diameter by 25%, and leaf production by 15%, compared to mangroves in crab exclusion enclosures. Additionally, the exclusion of fiddler crabs significantly increased interstitial water salinity from 32.4 to 44.2, and decreased the oxidation–reduction potential of the low organic sediments, but did not affect soil pH or sulfide concentration. Mangrove height, trunk diameter, and leaf production along a transect that varied in crab burrow density were positively associated with the number of crab burrows. Further, the density of sympatric Spartina alterniflora shoots was positively correlated with crab burrow density along the transect. As in temperate marshes, fiddler crabs can have significant ecological effects on mangrove communities, serving as ecological engineers by modulating the amount of resources available to marsh plants, and by altering the physical, chemical, and biological state of these soft sediment communities. In restored coastal systems that typically have very poor sediment quality, techniques such as soil amendment could be used to facilitate a more natural interaction between crabs and mangroves in ecosystem development.


Shoot Density Fiddler Crab Trunk Diameter Burrow Density Crab Burrow 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank Richard Sullivan, manager of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve for access to the restored marsh, and Allie Wilkinson and Courtney Nosach for their generous laboratory and field assistance. Comments and discussions with everyone directly involved, and with Randy Runnels and Brandt Henningsen, were extremely helpful. We would like to thank the associate editor and anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. This project was funded by a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research to C. Wilcox and by the Natural Sciences Summer Research Program at Eckerd College.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nancy F. Smith
    • 1
  • Christie Wilcox
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jeannine M. Lessmann
    • 1
  1. 1.Galbraith Marine Science LaboratoryEckerd CollegeSt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Cell and Molecular BiologyUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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