Can land crabs be used as a rapid ecosystem evaluation tool? A test using distribution and abundance of several genera from the Seychelles.
Habitat destruction and the introduction of exotic species are the primary causes of biodiversity loss in tropical island ecosystems. Conservation efforts on oceanic islands are often biased towards charismatic vertebrate faunas, neglecting invertebrate assemblages. We sampled the land crab community on five islands in the central Seychelles; in the intertidal zone, in the supralittoral zone and in nine different inland habitat types to explore the impacts of exotic vegetation and environmental variables on land crab abundance and community composition, and investigate whether land crabs can be used as a tool for the rapid assessment of habitat quality on tropical oceanic islands. We found that species richness and the abundance of the dominant ghost crab Ocypode cordimana was higher in native habitat types than habitats dominated by exotic vegetation. Available ground substrate suitable for burrowing may be a limiting factor for O. cordimana in exotic habitat types. Coenobita rugosus, the dominant crab in the supralittoral zone is largely absent where there is no supralittoral vegetation. These results suggest that land crabs could be reliable indicators of habitat quality on oceanic islands. The abundance of land crabs could be used in the rapid assessment of ecosystem perturbation and identification of sites requiring restoration or management.