Functional responses of an invasive mud crab across a salinity gradient.
Environmental gradients may alter the ecological impacts of invasive alien species. In marine systems such as the Baltic Sea, current salinity is variable and seawater freshening is projected in future, potentially facilitating novel keystone predators. Here, we examine the influence of salinity variation in the western Baltic Sea (i.e. ambient 10, then 7 and 4 ppt) on the functional response (FR) of the Harris mud crab Rhithropanopeus harrisii towards benthic macroinvertebrate prey at different densities. Rhithropanopeus harrisii displayed a Type II FR across salinities towards larval chironomids, due to a consistently high resource consumption rate at low prey densities. Feeding rates were significantly reduced at 4 ppt (mean 6 chironomid prey killed day-1) compared to 10 ppt and 7 ppt (9 killed day-1). Search efficiencies tended to be greatest at 10 ppt, whereas handling times were shortest - and maximum feeding rate highest - at the intermediate 7 ppt. These results suggest a slight reduction in predatory impact by R. harrisii at lower salinities. Nevertheless, across most prey densities, FRs were not significantly different, indicating sustained interaction strength across a range of salinity regimes.