Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fiddler crabs - more than just cute to look at

ResearchBlogging.orgI know everyone is going to jump at once to talk about this mind-blowing research by some of the greatest scientists that have ever been associated with ecology, and I hate just writing about papers that everyone will talk about anyhow, but I decided I still had to comment on this paper. It may very well be the most important paper of the year, even more influential and ground-breaking than Ida (though I wouldn't mention that to her directly).

Of course, I'm talking about the newest paper published in Marine Biology's "Online First", Fiddler crab burrowing affects growth and production of the white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) in a restored Florida coastal marsh.

This paper, written by three, top-notch biologists out of Eckerd College, explores the relationship between fiddler crab burrowing activity and the growth of young white mangroves through two different pathways. The first was a transect study, where mangrove growth variables were compared to burrow density and other plant density in a natural setting. The other used mesh cages to selectively reduce or allow burrowing activity around seedlings to study not only the growth differences but changes in the soil chemistry without the affects of other plants in the area.

The sum results of the two were clear - fiddler crabs had a big impact. By digging burrows, they increased mangrove growth and proliferation by at least 15%, and dramatically changed the soil chemistry. Their presence decreased salinity from over 44.2 to 32.4 and changed the oxidation potential, meaning they made the soils far more mangrove-friendly.

While this might seem like a small study, it's actually quite important. Mangroves are some of the most important ecosystems in the tropics, providing food and shelter for many commercially and ecologically important species. And, most importantly, we've done a fantastic job of destroying them as humans have decided that treed, swampy coasts are far less pretty to build a house on than just pristine, bulldozed sand. Now, millions of dollars are being pumped into restoration efforts, and the more we know about how to cultivate and encourage the growth of these fickle but critical trees, the better.

There might also be one other reason that I think this paper is so damned important... but I'll let you figure that one out for yourselves.

Smith, N., Wilcox, C., & Lessmann, J. (2009). Fiddler crab burrowing affects growth and production of the white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) in a restored Florida coastal marsh Marine Biology DOI: 10.1007/s00227-009-1253-7


Allie said...

Dare you not mention the amazing research assistant from Eckerd College who shed blood for this research?

Kevin Zelnio said...

Congratulations on the paper! It showed up in my RSS feed and I thought that name looked familiar. I have Uca in my backyard btw. Its not burrowing in it though...

Uzza said...

How can crabs reduce salinity?

Christie Lynn said...

Uzza - Most likely, their burrows can allow for better water flow through the soil, allowing the salt to wash away easier. Otheriwse, it's also possible that their feeding activities/excretion/etc might have an effect :)

Anonymous said...

west marine and randy repass are dick heads