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Hermit crabs, humans and Mozambique mangroves
Barnes, D.K.A. (2001). Hermit crabs, humans and Mozambique mangroves. Afr. J. Ecol. 39(3): 241-248
In: African Journal of Ecology. Wiley: Oxford,. ISSN 0141-6707, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Barnes, D.K.A.

    There is a complex interrelationship between upper shore hermit crabs (such as Coenobita sp. and Clibanarius sp.), coastal human populations and mangrove forests in Mozambique. The abundance, activity, shell selection and behaviour of three species of hermit crab are related to the level of mangrove cover. With increased density of mangrove trees, the study species of hermit crab changed in abundance, tended to become diurnal, spent more time feeding and were clustered in larger groups when doing so, and selected longer spired shells. All five of the same variables are also linked to the proximity and activity of humans through both direct and indirect actions. Direct effects included a tendency to nocturnal activity with proximity to human activity; indirect effects included increased and more clumped food supplies, and shell middens from intertidal harvesting and deforestation. Mangroves are important to local human populations as well as to hermit crabs, for a wide variety of (similar) reasons. Mangroves provide storm shelter, fisheries and fishery nursery grounds for adjacent human settlements, but they also harbour mosquito populations and their removal provides valuable building materials and fuel. Hermit crabs may be useful (indirectly) to coastal human populations by being a source of food to certain commercial species, and by quickly consuming rotting/discarded food and faeces (thereby reducing disease and pests). They can also cause minor problems to coastal human populations because they use shells of (fisheries) target mollusc species and can be more abundant than the living molluscs, thereby slowing down effective hand collection through confusion over identification. The mixture of positive and negative attributes that the three groups impart to each other in the Quirimba Archipelago, northern Mozambique, is discussed.

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