Hermit crabs (Pagurus spp.) at their northernmost range: distribution, abundance and shell use in the European Arctic
Hermit crabs are important components of Arctic benthic systems, yet baseline data on their densities and distribution patterns in this rapidly changing region are still scarce. Here we compile results of numerous research expeditions to Svalbard, the Barents Sea and northern Norway that were carried out from 1979 to 2011 by the Institute of Oceanology, Polish Academy of Sciences. The diversity of hermit crabs at the northern edge of their occurrence is very low; in Svalbard waters only one species (Pagurus pubescens) was detected. Another species (P. bernhardus), found in northern mainland Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, is likely to extend its distribution northward as the climate warms. Where the two species co-occur, competition between them probably accounts for the smaller sizes and poorer quality shells used by P. pubescens. The composition of the mollusc shells inhabited by these crabs differs between northern Norway and Svalbard, reflecting local mollusc species pools. Hermit crab densities were significantly higher than previously reported (max. mean 10 ind. m−2), suggesting their increasing level of dominance in benthic communities in the studied areas. The first to report the distribution of hermit crabs among habitats, this study showed that most individuals occurred at shallow depths (5–150 m), away from glacier termini and on hard bedrock rather than on soft substrata.
Keywords: Hermit crabs; Svalbard; Arctic; fjords.
(Published: 31 March 2015)Citation: Polar Research 2015, 34, 21412, http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/polar.v34.21412
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