Effects of human disturbance on the population dynamics of Ocypode quadrata (Decapoda: Ocypodidae) in beaches of the Mexican Caribbean
The ghost crab Ocypode quadrata is a relevant species in the Western Atlantic beaches, and has been proposed as an indicator of human impact in these ecosystems. Eventhough some studies have covered various aspects of its natural history, no evaluations on the effects of human disturbance on its population dynamics have been made. This work compared the abundance, growth, and mortality of O. quadrata in two disturbed beaches (Aventuras and Majahual) and two preserved beaches (Xcacel and Puerto Angel) from the Mexican Caribbean. For this, nine samplings were made on each beach (every two to three months) between March 2013 and November 2014. Crabs were collected manually by three people, during the night first hours and for one hour, and a total area of 9 000 m2 per beach. The crabs were measured, weighed, and separated into three groups: juvenile, male and female; while abundance was estimated by the number of collected crabs, and growth parameters were estimated using length frequencies. A total of 1 047 crabs were sampled in the four beaches; a higher crab abundance was found in the preserved beaches, but significant differences were only found between Puerto Angel and Majahual (Tukey, p<0.05). The adult-juvenile ratio was 1:1 in Xcacel and Aventuras, while in Majahual, more juveniles than adults were collected; and Puerto Angel had more adults than the juveniles. The size structure at Xcacel ranged from 4-32 mm, but in the rest of the beaches the minimum size was 5 mm. The maximum size at Aventuras, Majahual and Puerto Angel were 27 mm, 25 mm and 30 mm, respectively. The modal progression analysis of length’s pooled data, revealed the presence of at least two groups of ages in all beaches. For all beaches, individuals smaller than 10 mm length were collected in almost all sampling months, indicating a continuous recruitment throughout the year. The length-weight relationship of the ghost crab was found isometric in the two preserved beaches, and negative allometric at the two impacted beaches. Crabs from Puerto Angel showed the highest body condition (Tukey, p<0.05). K-values ranged from 0.6-0.97/year and L∞ from 29.0 mm to 33.6 mm with higher values for the two preserved beaches. The highest mortality values were found in Xcacel and Aventuras. In the disturbed beaches, the destruction of the dunes, the mechanical cleaning and the removal of organic matter, seem to be the main causes that lead to a low abundance of crabs, their slower growth and higher mortalities. However, in the best preserved beaches, biological interactions appear to be the most important aspects in regulating the population dynamics of this species. These results supported the information that the ghost crab is a good indicator of human disturbance, and its population changes were clearly measurable and comparable among protected and impacted beaches; these results are also relevant for the management of sandy beaches in the Mexican Caribbean.