Introduction of a functionally novel consumer to a low diversity system: effects of the mud crab Rhithropanopeus harrisii on meiobenthos.
The Harris mud crab Rhithropanopeus harrisii recently expanded into much of the Baltic Sea. This invasion is expected to have significant effects on the structure and functioning of benthic ecosystems due to the lack of native crabs. Habitat type potentially modulates the effects as crabs are expected to behave differently in different habitats. In this study we experimentally evaluated the effect of R. harrisii on the species composition and dominance structure of shallow water meiobenthos within common habitat types of the north-eastern Baltic Sea. Among the studied environmental variables R. harrisii had by far the strongest effects on meiobenthos. The effects of R. harrisii varied among different habitats with the crab mostly modifying taxonomic composition and species abundances of meiobenthic communities on unvegetated soft bottom sediments. Our experiment also showed that boulders provided shelter for R. harrisii and thereby reduced their burrowing activity and effects on the adjacent soft bottom meiobenthos.