Conspecific tolerance and heterospecific competition as mechanisms for overcoming resistance to invasion by an intertidal crab

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The success of the invasive Asian shore crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, stems partly from its ability to exclude established crab species from preferred rocky and cobble intertidal habitat. Here, we assessed preference and competition for habitat types (cobble vs. sand) for H. sanguineus and two competitor species; the previous invasive green crab, Carcinus maenas, and the native rock crab, Cancer irroratus, in New England. In simple laboratory experiments, we paired similarly sized heterospecifics and conspecifics from each species, and also grouped combinations of C. maenas and H. sanguineus in a series of four-individual sets in order to dissect the outcome of intra- and inter-specific competition at different densities. Individually, all three species preferred cobble substrate. With paired conspecifics, H. sanguineus individuals would cohabitate in cobble, whereas C. maenas and C. irroratus individuals each excluded conspecifics from cobble. In heterospecific pairs, H. sanguineus excluded both C. maenas and C. irroratus from cobble. C. maenas and C. irroratus, were equally likely to exclude the other species, but rarely excluded H. sanguineus. In larger assemblages, H. sanguineus preferentially grouped under cobble, whereas C. maenas were more evenly distributed among habitat types. These observations demonstrate that conspecific tolerance and heterospecific competition can be effective, complementary mechanisms for overcoming invasion resistance. Such mechanisms help explain the well-studied success of H. sanguineus following its introduction into New England coastal habitats, and the resulting exclusion of preexisting crab species.

Publication Title

Biological Invasions