Functional responses of a cosmopolitan invader demonstrate intraspecific variability in consumer–resource dynamics

Brett R. Howard, Daniel Barrios-O'Neill, Mhairi E. Alexander, Jaimie T.A. Dick, Thomas W. Therriault, Tamara B. Robinson, Isabelle M. Côté

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    Variability in the ecological impacts of invasive species across their geographical ranges may decrease the accuracy of risk assessments. Comparative functional response analysis can be used to estimate invasive consumer-resource dynamics, explain impact variability, and thus potentially inform impact predictions. The European green crab (Carcinus maenas) has been introduced on multiple continents beyond its native range, although its ecological impacts appear to vary among populations and regions. Our aim was to test whether consumer-resource dynamics under standardized conditions are similarly variable across the current geographic distribution of green crab, and to identify correlated morphological features.

    Crabs were collected from multiple populations within both native (Northern Ireland) and invasive regions (South Africa and Canada). Their functional responses to local mussels (Mytilus spp.) were tested. Attack rates and handling times were compared among green crab populations within each region, and among regions (Pacific Canada, Atlantic Canada, South Africa, and Northern Ireland). The effect of predator and prey morphology on prey consumption was investigated.

    Across regions, green crabs consumed prey according to a Type II (hyperbolic) functional response curve. Attack rates (i.e., the rate at which a predator finds and attacks prey), handling times and maximum feeding rates differed among regions. There was a trend toward higher attack rates in invasive than in native populations. Green crabs from Canada had lower handling times and thus higher maximum feeding rates than those from South Africa and Northern Ireland. Canadian and Northern Ireland crabs had significantly larger claws than South African crabs. Claw size was a more important predictor of the proportion of mussels killed than prey shell strength.

    The differences in functional response between regions reflect observed impacts of green crabs in the wild. This suggests that an understanding of consumer–resource dynamics (e.g., the per capita measure of predation), derived from simple, standardized experiments, might yield useful predictions of invader impacts across geographical ranges.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number5634
    Number of pages22
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Sep 2018


    • Biological invasion
    • Carcinus maenas
    • Morphology
    • European green crab
    • Prediction
    • Prey handling
    • Risk assessment


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