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The mud crab continues to spread
Part one of two

October 01, 2007

The mud crab continues to spread <br/><small>Part one of two</small>

While this crab has invaded both the West Coast of the US and several European countries, this is the first report of an established population in the tropics.

As part of a larger effort to evaluate the role of the Panama Canal in regional and global invasions, STRI scientist Mark Torchin and Dominique Roche, from McGill discovered a reproducing population of a North American Harris mud crab in the Canal, Rhithropanopeus harrisii, an estuarine crab native to the East Coast of North America.

While this crab has invaded both the West Coast of the US and several European countries, this is the first report of an established population in the tropics.

Now, alongside the notorious green crab, Carcinus maenas, and the Chinese mitten crab, Eriocheir sinensis, the Harris mud crab is among the most widely distributed brachyuran invaders worldwide.

Interestingly, in 1969, five specimens of R. harrisii were collected by Larry Abele, in the Pedro Miguel Locks while he was working at STRI. However, subsequent surveys suggested it was not established.

Earlier this year, Torchin and Roche found the crab along the shore of the Miraflores Third Lock Lake. The peculiarity of this lake was first described by Rubinoff and Rubinoff in 1968 in a study reporting the occurrence of an Atlantic fish species crossing the Panama Canal and successfully establishing on the Pacific Coast.

Similarly, in 1975, McCosker and Dawson recognized the distinctiveness of this lake, which they characterized as "a unique Pacific habitat which supports a mixed biota of Atlantic and Pacific organisms." Is the exotic crab restricted to this unique habitat or is it more widespread?

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