Ecology of the intertidal crab Dotilla intermedia from tsunami-impacted beaches in Thailand
Allen, Christopher John
PublisherUniversity of Southampton
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Crabs of the genus Dotilla are ecologically important members of intertidal sandy shore communities. Exposed sandy shores represent one of the main habitat types along the coast of the Laem Son National Park in Thailand, and Dotilla sp. is the dominant macrofaunal species on these beaches, occurring in immense numbers. Despite their importance as a key member of the faunal community on these beaches, little is known about the ecology of Dotilla crabs in the Laem Son. Taxonomic investigations identified the Dotilla crabs present on the exposed oceanic beaches in the Laem Son to be D. intermedia. This represents the first time that D. intermedia has been recorded from Thailand. Dotilla intermedia inhabits a very well defined zone on the sandy beaches, and the factors underlying these zonation patterns were examined. The gradient of the beach was correlated to the height at which the boundaries of the Dotilla zone occurred, with physical factors associated with the beach gradient driving the distribution of D. intermedia on the beach. The upper limit of the Dotilla zone was controlled by the total water content of the sediment, with D. intermedia absent from areas with less than 15% total water content. Tidal influences defined the lower boundary of the Dotilla zone, with crabs requiring an area with a minimum exposure time between tidal immersions of 4-5 hours to feed on the sediment. Within the Dotilla zone, size segregation was observed; larger crabs occurred higher on the shore, and small crabs lower down. The sandy shores of the Laem Son were heavily impacted by the tsunami of 26th December 2004, which effectively destroyed the populations of D. intermedia on the beaches. However, by April 2005 D. intermedia was present again on the beaches. A temporal population genetic study was undertaken to investigate the impact of extinction and recolonisation on the genetic variation of a population. Genetic variation in mtDNA markers was found to decrease over time, matching the predictions of mathematical models concerning the effect of bottlenecking events on genetic diversity within populations. The impact of the tsunami on D. intermedia is discussed further in light of the ecological and molecular data produced in this thesis.