Journal of Tropical Ecology

Research Article

Red crabs in rain forest, Christmas Island: removal and fate of fruits and seeds

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

a1 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3168, Australia


The red land crab (Gecarcoidea nalalis) is the major collector of fruits and seeds from the rain forest Moor on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean. At three sites, they rapidly removed fruits and seeds of 17 species tested (usually within 12 h after placement) and most were taken to crab burrows. Direct observations of seed predation, and application of estimated chelar forces of red crabs indicated that seeds of many species, especially those with thin seed coats, are likely to be killed through handling. However, removal of some resistant seeds to burrows may be favourable for seedling establishment when canopy gaps occur. Fruit removal rates by crabs were positively related to nitrogen concentration in fruit tissues but negatively correlated with condensed tannins. These observations suggest that seed predation by land crabs may affect the success of colonization and the relative abundance of plants on oceanic islands.

(Accepted June 18 1990)