Coral-crab association: a compact domain of a multilevel trophic system

B. Rinkevich, Z. Wolodarsky, Y. Loya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colonies of the Red Sea branching coral Stylophora pistillata were incubated in situ with radioactive carbon and Trapezia cymodoce crabs were introduced to the colonies, for one month each, up to 7 months after coral labelling. Zooxanthellar photosynthetic products were translocated to the crabs via host coral tissue. Based upon crab/coral tissue conversion from 53 crab samples, crabs possessed radioactive material equal to that recorded in 320-770 mm2 of coral tissue (up to 2257 mm2). This material was translocated mainly by direct 'grazing' on coral tissue rather than mucus collection. Ovigerous female crabs (39 specimens) accumulated significantly more labelled carbon than males, and up to 53 % of their radioactivity was concentrated in their reproductive organs. A pair of crabs dwelling in a coral colony consumed ca 130 cm2 of host tissue per month (40-45 cm length of coral branches). This system represents a compact, obligatory multilevel trophic domain which also radiates horizontally by allocation of energy derived from algal photosynthesis into planula and zooea larva production, permitting the development of long trophic chains and a complex food web.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-284
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Stylophora pistillata
  • Trapezia cymodoce
  • commensalism
  • food chain
  • invertebrate reproduction
  • parasitism
  • predation
  • zooxanthellae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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