Red crabs in rainforest on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean: No effect on the soil seed bank



Red land crabs (Gecarcoidea natalis) are both abundant and widespread in intact rainforest on Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, occurring at densities of ~ 1 crab m–2. We used an on-going exclusion experiment to test the hypothesis that through their activities as seed predators and soil disturbers, these omnivores are important determinants of the density and relative species abundance of seeds in the soil seed bank of undisturbed primary rainforest. After 6.5 y of continuous crab exclusion, there was no significant difference in the density of seeds in the top 3 cm of soil between the control (3671 ± 517 seeds/0.19 m2) and exclusion plots (3285 ± 801 seeds/0.19 m2), nor was there any significant treatment difference in relative species composition. There were also no significant treatment differences when Muntingia calabura, which accounted for 91.9% of all seeds in the seed bank, was excluded from the analyses. We attribute the lack of a significant impact of red crabs to their probable inability to handle the very small seeds which occurred in the seed bank, and the low level of soil disturbance at the study site. We conclude that the observed impact of red crabs on the abundance and diversity of successional species in natural light gaps on Christmas Island is due to their impact on germinating seedlings alone, rather than any additional impact on the soil seed bank.