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PeerJ. 2019 May 8;7:e6818. doi: 10.7717/peerj.6818. eCollection 2019.

Changes in precipitation may alter food preference in an ecosystem engineer, the black land crab, Gecarcinus ruricola.

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Department of Ocean Sciences, Memorial University, St Johns, NL, Canada.
Cape Eleuthera Institute, Rock Sound, Eleuthera, The Bahamas.
Department of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon, UK.


Gecarcinid land crabs are ecosystem engineers playing an important role in nutrient recycling and seedling propagation in coastal forests. Given a predicted future decline in precipitation for the Caribbean, the effects of dehydration on feeding preferences of the black land crab Gecarcinus ruricola were investigated. G. ruricola were offered novel food items of lettuce, apple, or herring to test for food choice based on water and nutritional (energetic) content in single and multiple choice experimental designs. The effect of dehydration was incorporated by depriving crabs of water for 0, 4, or 8 days, leading to an average body water loss of 0%, 9%, and 17%, respectively, (crabs survived a body water loss of 23% + 2% and 14-16 days without access to water). The results were consistent between the single and multiple choice experiments: crabs consumed relatively more apple and fish and only small amounts of lettuce. Overall, no selective preferences were observed as a function of dehydration, but crabs did consume less dry food when deprived of water and an overall lower food intake with increasing dehydration levels occurred. The decrease in feeding was likely due to loss of water from the gut resulting in the inability to produce ample digestive juices. Future climatic predictions suggest a 25-50% decline in rainfall in the Caribbean, which may lead to a lower food intake by the crabs, resulting in compromised growth. The subsequent reduction in nutrient recycling highlights possible long-term effects on coastal ecosystems and highlights the importance of future work on climate relative behavioral interactions that influence ecosystem function.


Caribbean; Climate change; Dehydration; Feeding; Gecarcinus ruricola; Water budget

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