Marine fisheries have resulted in large-scale manipulations of predator populations. The practice of discarding by-catch, under-sized fishes and offal from trawlers has led to an increase in the populations of certain scavenging bird species. The greatest population increases have occurred in the most aggressively competitive species, while some subordinate species have decreased in abundance. Several recent studies indicate that a similar situation may exist for epibenthic scavengers. We explore the possibility that enhanced food supply in the form of fisheries-generated carrion may affect the competitive balance between sympatric populations of hermit crabs, Pagurus bernhardus and P. prideaux. Under normal conditions, both species have overlapping diets and occur in equal abundance at the site studied. In laboratory investigations both species consumed the same types of carrion. However field observations revealed that while P. bernhardus aggregate in areas disturbed by trawls where they consume animals damaged in the trawl path, P. prideaux do not. Morphometric analyses revealed that P. prideaux have smaller chelae relative to P. bernhardus. Thus, P. prideaux may avoid dense aggregations of P. bernhardus which are more aggressive. These behavioural differences, coupled with higher fisheries mortality for P. prideaux, may provide a mechanism whereby P. bernhardus could outcompete P. prideaux in areas were fishing disturbance and discarding occur frequently.
- Fisheries discards
- Hermit crabs
- North sea
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics