Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Quantifying the effects of bioturbation by Carcinus maenas L. (green crabs) on Zostera marina (eelgrass) transplants using mesocosm experiments


Mesocosm experiments were conducted in the summer of 1996 to quantify the effect of bioturbation by Carcinus maenas (the introduced European green crab) on survival of transplanted Zostera marina (eelgrass). The research grew out of a successful 2.52 ha eelgrass transplant project in the Great Bay Estuary of New Hampshire. At several subtidal sites, green crabs were found to damage transplanted eelgrass by cutting the shoots to the extent that some sites demonstrated poor survival. In three separate experiments, eight replicate mesocosm tanks were transplanted with 36 shoots of eelgrass, and different crab densities were introduced into the tanks. The number of shoots damaged by crabs was significantly higher in tanks with moderate (4.0 crabs/m2), high (7.0 crabs/m2), or very high (15.0 crabs/m2) crab densities than in tanks with low (1.0 crabs/m2) crab densities. Up to 39% of viable shoots were lost within one week of exposure to green crab activities. The mesocosm results demonstrated that green crabs were not directly attracted to eelgrass but that they significantly decreased transplant survival through their activity. Field densities of green crabs were found to exceed the density at which most damage occurred in the experiments, suggesting that this introduced species can be a major determinant of eelgrass transplant survival. The results underscore the major influence that biological components of transplant sites can have on transplant survival, and the need for their consideration in the site selection process.


Jackson Estuarine Laboratory, Natural Resources and the Environment

Publication Date


Journal Title

Restoration Ecology



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Document Type



© 1998 Society for Ecological Restoration