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Secondary removal of Myristica fatua (Myristicaceae) seeds by crabs in Myristica swamp forests in India

  • Shivani Krishna (a1) and Hema Somanathan (a1)

Little is known about the role of crabs as seed dispersers and predators. Recently, there has been interest in understanding their influence on plant recruitment in coastal forests. Secondary seed removal by crabs in a swamp-specialist tree, Myristica fatua, was investigated in the rare and patchy freshwater Myristica swamps in the Western Ghats in India. Tethered-line experiments were used to determine the role of crabs as secondary seed-removal agents in two study sites. Crabs transported a large percentage (63.3%) of seeds (n = 60) placed on the forest floor compared with rodents (25%) and other unknown agents (13.3%). Simultaneous choice experiments suggested that the nutrient-rich arils covering seeds were consumed, but there was no evidence for seed predation by crabs. A small percentage (13.3%) of monitored seeds (n = 60) germinated from within crab burrows. The spatial scale of secondary removal by crabs was restricted to < 10 m. In these fragmented swamp forests, secondary removal by crabs retains seeds largely within the swamps, where conditions for their establishment and survival are optimal. Thus, secondary seed removal by crabs could provide temporal and spatial refugia from seed predators such as rodents in Myristica fatua.

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