Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Catching crabs ain't easy!

Mat Wooller, Quinn Roberts, and Marilyn hunting fish 2001

How did the nitrogen cycle influence the food webs? Capturing mangrove tree crabs can be a real active sport. These small (4-10 cm) crabs perch on mangrove branches, scuttering up and down as they feed. We tried shaking the trees and dislodging them. If they did fall, they quickly disappeared in the complex root system of the tree. A combination of netting, shaking, and quick footwork was needed to get an adequate sample. Snails were another story: you could easily pluck them off the mud or the trees, but snail hunting was not nearly as fun as crab hunting. As Wooller remarked, “It’s not exactly rhino hunting”. After collecting a full complement of animals on the islands, we found that the animals living midst the dwarf mangroves had unusual nitrogen isotope “signals” showing the importance of mangroves to food webs in this ecosystem.
         One of our  “fishing” trips at an interior pond led to a combination of serious sampling and tremendous fun. Although we could catch small fish with our nets, the large mangrove snappers were able to evade them when they saw us coming. Mat, Quinn Roberts, and I desperately wanted to sample some of the larger fish because it was important to learn whether they depended at all on mangrove biomass for their diet. One afternoon, we set up our net at the end of the pond where a school of large snappers were seen daily. Then, smeared with mangrove peat and armed with smaller nets, we hooped and hollered our way tumbling across the swamp forcing the fish into our nets. Two people were stationed at either end of the net ready to close it once our prey was inside. As we dragged the net onshore, we looked. “Hardly enough for dinner”, I said disappointed. Perhaps not a sampling success, but a hell of a good time.       

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