Leaf litter removal by the abundant mangrove decapod crab Neosarmatium meinerti was studied in series of field and laboratory experiments in East Africa. In the high intertidal Avicennia marina zone crabs buried all leaves placed on the forest floor and consumed on average 67% of them within 2 hrs. High shore crabs in Kenya buried 4 g m−2 leaf-litter in 1 hr, i.e. approx. twice the daily litter fall. In contrast, in the low shore Sonneratia alba zone, where typical leaf-eating crabs were absent, none of the offered leaves showed signs of herbivory. Leaf choice experiments in the laboratory showed that N. meinerti preferred some species to others. Leaf consumption per gram crab was higher in females than males. The laboratory studies also indicated that crabs could consume substantially more than the average daily litter fall. Video recordings documented frequent fights to gain or retain fallen leaves, suggesting strong competition for leaf litter. Earlier studies indicating that N. meinerti may sweep mangrove forest floors clean of leaf litter are confirmed. In high shore mangroves of East and South Africa where N. meinerti is common, energy flow appears unique: virtually all litter production is retained
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Vol. 31 • No. 7