Leaf litter removal by the snail Terebralia palustris (Linnaeus) and sesarmid crabs in an East African mangrove forest (Gazi Bay, Kenya)

F.J. Slim, M.A. Hemminga, C. Ochieng, N.T. Jannink, E.C. De la Moriniere, G. Van der Velde

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    Quantitative data on leaf litter removal activity of macrozoobenthic organisms in the mangrove forests of East Africa are virtually non-existent. In the present study, litter removal activity was determined in two contrasting types of mangrove stands in Gazi Bay (Kenya). In the relatively elevated Ceriops tagal vegetation, which is only flooded during spring tides, the detritivorous snail Terebralia palustris (Linnaeus) was the major macrobenthic organism responsible for litter removal. Analysis of the delta(13)C value of the foot tissue of the snail indicated a segregation in the food consumed by individuals below and above a size of 50 mm, in agreement with the observation that only larger individuals were feeding on the leaf litter. In the low lying Rhizophora mucronata stand, which is flooded by each high tide, the crab Sesarma guttatum (H. Milne Edwards) was responsible for most of the litter removal (consumption and burial). The availability of water in the C. tagal stand, caused by tidal inundation or by rainfall, was a determining factor in the amount of litter being removed. When the stand remained dry around neap tides, the median litter removal, as a percentage of the litter fail, was only 0.8%. Under wet conditions around spring tide this percentage was much higher: 41.6% by night and 25.2% by day, respectively. These figures reflect the behaviour of T. palustris, which is inactive under dry conditions in order to avoid desiccation. Median litter removal in the R. mucronata vegetation, expressed as a percentage of the litter fall, was 40.3% by day and 21.7% by night. No relation was observed between lunar cycle and activity of the litter processing crabs. Taking into consideration differences in inundation frequency and duration, and in litter removal activity by benthic animals as related to tidal height and day/night cycles, we estimate that in this East African mangrove, on average. 11.2% and 18.6% of the fallen litter is processed by macrobenthic animals in the C. tagal and in the R. mucronata vegetation, respectively. Our results indicate that removal of fallen leaf litter in mangrove forests is not effected by benthic communities dominated by crabs only, but that activities of litter feeding snails may also be significant. [KEYWORDS: mangroves; leaf litter; litter processing; sesarmid crabs; snails; Terebralia palustris Australia; decapoda; queensland; crustacea; grapsidae; ecology]
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)35-48
    JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1997


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