Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

Red crabs in rain forest, Christmas Island: removal and relocation of leaf-fall

Dennis J. O'Dowda1 and P. S. Lakea1

a1 Department of Botany and Zoology, Monash University, Clayton VIC 3168 Australia


Field experiments comparing leaf-fall in the presence and absence of the red land crab, Gecarcoidea natalis, in rain forest on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean showed that, by eating and returning leaves to their burrows, they significantly reduced accumulation of leaf-fall on the forest floor. Red crabs removed 30–50% of the leaf-fall at the experimental sites during the study. Differences in leaf-fall mass between crab-access and exclusion quadrats were positively correlated with the density of foraging red crabs. Red crabs also generated spatial heterogeneity in the distribution of litter on the forest floor by returning litter to their burrows. Leaves lined chambers of 64% of excavated burrows and litter biomass around the entrances was significantly greater than that on off-burrow locations. This was reflected in the significantly higher concentrations of organic matter and nutrients (N, P, K, Ca, Na, and Mg) associated with soils near burrow entrances. These results suggest that a single species, G. natalis, is the major processor of leaf-fall in rain forest on Christmas Island and may affect (1) the temporal and spatial patterns of nutrient availability and (2) the diversity and biomass of the litter fauna.

(Accepted January 23 1989)