The prey and size-class preferences of four marine epibenthic predators was examined in a laboratory study by determining the mortality rates of four commercial bivalve species in 4-d trials where predators were present or absent. Bivalve species used were quahogs (Mercenaria mercenaria), eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica), blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) and soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria). Prey size-classes investigated were 0–15, 15–25 and 25–40 mm. A first set of experiments compared the mortality rates of prey in the presence of the invasive green crab (Carcinus maenas) and the native rock crab (Cancer irroratus). The second set of experiments compared the predation behavior of the green crab, the common starfish (Asterias vulgaris) and the moon snail (Euspira heros). Single- and multiple-choice experiments were carried out in relation to the prey species being challenged by the predator. Results from the first set of experiments showed that green crabs preyed on all prey species from all size-classes in single and multiple-choice trials. Mussels and clams were the preferred prey species. Rock crabs preyed on mussels in single- and multiple-choice trials. Rock crabs preyed heavily on soft-shell clams in single-choice trials, whereas no clams were eaten in multiple-choice trials. Rock crabs did not prey on quahogs in single- and multiple-choice trials. In both trials, small individuals were preyed on more often by both crab species. The second set of experiments confirmed results observed for the green crab in the first set of experiments. The common starfish was a very active predator as well. Blue mussels were the preferred prey species of the starfish. Moon snails displayed a much lower predation activity than the other predators. The multiple-choice experiment showed different results in that predation rates were lower than in cases where predators were facing one prey species at a time. Overall, our results showed that the two crab species and the common starfish displayed a generalist feeding behavior. Results also showed that the invasive green crab might represent a new predation threat to commercial bivalves as well as a competing threat to the native rock crab.
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