Aim To examine patterns of abundance, density, size and shell use in land hermit crabs, Coenobita clypeatus (Herbst), occurring on three groups of small islands, and to determine how these variables change among islands.
Location Small islands in the Central Exuma Cays and near Great Exuma, Bahamas.
Methods Land hermit crabs were captured in baited pitfall traps and were separately attracted to baits. A mark–recapture technique was used in conjunction with some pitfall traps monitored for three consecutive days. The size of each crab and the type of adopted gastropod shell were recorded, along with physical island variables such as total island area, vegetated area, island perimeter, elevation and distance to the nearest mainland island.
Results Relative abundances, densities and sizes of crabs differed significantly among the three island groups. Densities of land hermit crabs were as high as 46 m−2 of vegetated island area. In simple and multiple linear regressions, the only variable that was a significant predictor of the abundance of hermit crabs was the perimeter to area ratio of the island. Patterns of gastropod shell use varied significantly among the island groups, and the vast majority of adopted shells originated from gastropod species that inhabit the high intertidal and supratidal shorelines of the islands.
Main conclusions Although densities of land hermit crabs varied, they were relatively high on many islands, and land hermit crabs may play an important role in these insular food webs. Patterns of shell use may be strongly restricted by island geomorphology: irregular shorelines provide relatively more habitat for the gastropod species that account for the majority of adopted shells and the steep sides of the islands prevent the accumulation of marine gastropod shells. The size of adult hermit crabs appears to be limited by the relatively small gastropod shells available, while the abundance of hermit crabs may be limited by the number of shells available.
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