Interspecific competition and coexistence between ants and land hermit crabs on small Bahamian islands


Numerous studies have demonstrated the existence of intra- and interspecific competition among ants, but few have investigated direct competitive interactions between ants and other taxa. In this paper, I present the first evidence of direct competitive interactions between ants and crabs. Evidence of competition for food between ants and the land hermit crab, Coenobita clypeatus (Herbst), was derived from observations and experiments in an archipelago of small islands in the central Exumas, Bahamas. Correlational evidence of competition for food based on occurrences at baits was found between ants and hermit crabs in multiple years. Observations at baits over time revealed species turnover occurred due to aggressive interactions. C. clypeatus discovered food items rapidly, but lost control of food over time, particularly to the ant Brachymyrmex obscurior Forel, which took longer to find food items but recruited large numbers of workers that drove off hermit crabs. A second ant species, Dorymyrmex pyramicus Roger, discovered baits quickly but did not recruit to baits in large numbers, and was not a superior competitor to either C. clypeatus or B. obscurior. Competition between ants and land hermit crabs was not intense enough to cause complementary distributions, and mechanisms of coexistence apparently include temporal variation in foraging activity and complementary foraging strategies when ants and crabs are active at the same time. Because of the widespread distributions and generalist scavenger diets of many ants and crabs, such competitive interactions are likely to be a common facet of many tropical and subtropical insular and coastal communities. © 2002 Éditions scientifiques et médicales Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.

Document Type




Arthropod community, Bahamas, Coenobita clypeatus, Foraging strategy, Formicidae

Publication Date


Journal Title

Acta Oecologica