Crabs face a lot of obstacles like pollution, competition for food, and of course, predators. Another obstacle that’s just as significant is the threat from invasive species. Invasive species often have several advantages over the natives. They may have different defenses against predators, and make competition for food and space even tougher.
In Delaware, many feared for the native mud crab when the Asian shore crab was found making its way into the mud crabs’ territory. The shore crab was first discovered at Townsends Inlet in 1988, most likely having made its way over from Asia in the ballast of a ship. It quickly expanded its territory along the coast, and now claims grounds from Maine to North Carolina.
While many thought that the shore crab would push the native mud crab out of Delaware’s waters, the mud crab has proved itself a hardy crustacean. While at first the shore crab made great incursions into the rocky coastline the mud crab favors, researchers from the Universtiy of Delaware recently found that new population data shows the shore crab population has significantly declined in these areas. While it’s still high where they were first discovered in Townsends Inlet, the mud crab species native to Delaware now accounts for 75% of the population along the coast.
So what happened? Usually invasive species have little trouble driving out the natives. Researchers aren’t positive, but they think it could have something to do with the habitat that the shore crab prefers. Most of the coast of Delaware and Maryland has a muddy bottom, while the shore crabs like a coarse, sandier bottom. It could also have been the result of a parasite or disease. Whatever the case, it looks like the mud crab has made a solid comeback in Delaware and Maryland.
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