Use of multiple chemical tracers to define habitat use of Indo-Pacific mangrove crab, Scylla serrata (Decapoda: Portunidae)

Amanda W. J. Demopoulos, Nicole Cormier, Katherine C. Ewel, Brian Fry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The mangrove or mud crab, Scylla serrata, is an important component of mangrove fisheries throughout the Indo-Pacific. Understanding crab diets and habitat use should assist in managing these fisheries and could provide additional justification for conservation of the mangrove ecosystem itself. We used multiple chemical tracers to test whether crab movements were restricted to local mangrove forests, or extended to include adjacent seagrass beds and reef flats. We sampled three mangrove forests on the island of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia at Lelu Harbor, Okat River, and Utwe tidal channel. Samples of S. serrata and likely food sources were analyzed for stable carbon (δ13C), nitrogen (δ15N), and sulfur (δ34S) isotopes. Scylla serrata tissues also were analyzed for phosphorus (P), cations (K, Ca, Mg, Na), and trace elements (Mn, Fe, Cu, Zn, and B). Discriminant analysis indicated that at least 87% of the crabs remain in each site as distinct populations. Crab stable isotope values indicated potential differences in habitat use within estuaries. Values for δ13C and δ34S in crabs from Okat and Utwe were low and similar to values expected from animals feeding within mangrove forests, e.g., feeding on infauna that had average δ13C values near -26.5‰. In contrast, crabs from Lelu had higher δ 13C and δ34S values, with average values of -21.8 and 7.8‰, respectively. These higher isotope values are consistent with increased crab foraging on reef flats and seagrasses. Given that S. serrata have been observed feeding on adjacent reef and seagrass environments on Kosrae, it is likely that they move in and out of the mangroves for feeding. Isotope mixing model results support these conclusions, with the greatest mangrove ecosystem contribution to S. serrata diet occurring in the largest mangrove forests. Conserving larger island mangrove forests (> 1 km deep) appears to support crab foraging activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-381
Number of pages11
JournalEstuaries and Coasts
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Benthos
  • Elemental analysis
  • Habitat residency
  • Infauna
  • IsoSource
  • Mangrove
  • Micronesia
  • Mixing models
  • Scylla serrata
  • Stable isotope analysis
  • Sulfur


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