The trophic position of the Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus Rathbun 1896 in the food web of Parila Lagoon (South Eastern Adriatic, Croatia): a first assessment using stable isotopes.
The Atlantic blue crab Callinectes sapidus is to date widely distributed in the Mediterranean Sea, where is recognized as an Invasive Alien Species. Noticeably, while records of its occurrence are increasing, quantitative information on its functional role in the benthic food webs of invaded coastal habitats are scarce.Here, carbon and nitrogen isotopic signatures were measured in C. sapidus and other representative taxa of the benthic flora and fauna sampled in summer in the Parila Lagoon, a coastal basin located in the Neretva River estuary area (Croatia). d15N values of individual blue crab specimens were used to calculate their trophic position (TP) , using the filter feeder mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis as the isotopic baseline. In general, the isotopic signature of C. sapidus was comparable with those characterizing invertebrate and fish predators (e.g., Hexaplex trunculus, Gobius niger). An average trophic position of 3.73 was estimated for the blue crab population. However, a considerable inter-individual variation was observed in TP values, significantly related with the size of the specimens. Interestingly, a hump-shaped quadratic polynomial resulted the best fitting model for the data, characterized for small-size individuals by a positive body size-TP relationship, leveling or even turning negative for larger adult crabs. The interplay between environmental factors and ontogenetic diet shifts in determining the trophic position of the blue crab and, ultimately, its ecological impact on the benthic community of the Parila Lagoon is discussed.