Mechanisms of coexistence and competition between ants and land hermit crabs in a Bahamian archipelago


Ants and land crabs are common inhabitants of many coastal and insular communities across the tropics and subtropics, and yet direct evidence of interspecific competition between ants and land crabs has only recently been documented. I conducted a series of observational and manipulative experiments to further elucidate the mechanisms of competition, as well as coexistence, in these two groups in an archipelago of small Bahamian islands. Diel baiting trials demonstrated a significant temporal difference in foraging activity between the land hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus (Herbst), and ant Brachymyrmex obscurior Forel, suggesting this is one mechanism underlying their coexistence on small oceanic islands. Reciprocal manipulative baiting experiments, in which one of a pair of species was removed from baits, documented that aggressive interspecific interactions underlie patterns of complementary distribution and temporal turnover at rich food resources. This was true for competition between hermit crabs and B. obscurior, and between B. obscurior and a second ant species, Dorymyrmex pyramicus Roger. Negative species associations at baits were found to be common throughout an archipelago of 69 small islands. A trade-off in exploitative and interference abilities may be a second mechanism allowing species coexistence on these small islands. Interspecific interactions such as competition and predation may occur commonly between ants and land crabs and have important consequences for the structure and function of tropical and subtropical insular ecosystems.



Document Type





Bahamas, Coenobita clypeatus, Formicidae, Interspecific competition, Land hermit crab

Publication Date


Journal Title

Acta Oecologica