Crab Diets Differ Between Adjacent Estuaries and Habitats Within a Sheltered Marine Embayment
Portunid crabs contribute to significant commercial and recreational fisheries globally and are commonly fished in estuaries and/or marine embayments, which are amongst the most degraded of all aquatic ecosystems. Portunus armatus were collected seasonally between April and February from five locations across three systems in temperate south-western Australia. The dietary composition of crabs was quantified and compared between two estuaries (Peel-Harvey and Swan-Canning) and a sheltered marine embayment (Cockburn Sound) containing three distinct habitats: shallow seagrass, shallow sand and deep sand. Overall, crabs ingested large volumes of bivalves (both live organisms and dead shell), polychaetes, crustaceans (e.g., amphipods, small decapods), and smaller volumes of teleosts, echinoderms and plant material (seagrass, algae). Analysis of Similarities showed that dietary composition varied significantly among the five locations (two estuaries and three habitats within Cockburn Sound) and seasons, with greater location than seasonal differences in the two estuaries. Diets were most distinct in the Cockburn Sound seagrass due to greater volumes of decapods and teleosts and smaller volumes of bivalve shell consumed in this habitat. Crabs from both estuaries consumed greater quantities of bivalves than those from Cockburn Sound. Seasonal differences in both estuaries were greatest between summer and winter, with a more diverse range of prey and large quantities of bivalves ingested in summer, whereas small bivalves and bivalve shell in the Peel-Harvey and polychaetes and other crustaceans in the Swan-Canning, were consumed in greater quantities in winter. The summer diet in the Peel-Harvey Estuary in the current study was compared to that 20 years previous and with documented change in the benthic macroinvertebrate fauna. Currently, crabs consume smaller volumes of high-calorie prey, i.e., polychaetes, small bivalves and teleosts, and instead ingest greater proportions of calcareous material than previously. This marked shift in dietary composition parallels changes in benthic macroinvertebrates in the Peel-Harvey Estuary. Overall, prey availability appears to be the major factor influencing the spatial and temporal differences in P. armatus diets in these three coastal systems.