Existing paradigms suggest that mangrove leaf litter is processed primarily via the detrital pathway in forests in the Caribbean biogeographic realm whereas herbivorous crabs are relatively more important litter processors in the Indo-West Pacific. To test this hypothesis, we used pitfall traps to collect intertidal crabs to characterize the crab fauna in a mangrove estuary in southwest Florida. We also tethered mangrove leaves to determine if herbivorous crabs are major leaf consumers there. We compared the results with previously published data collected in an analogous manner from forests in northeastern Australia. The crab fauna in Rookery Bay, Florida, is dominated by carnivorous xanthid and deposit-feeding ocypodid crabs whereas that of the Murray River in northeastern Australia is dominated by herbivorous grapsid crabs. No leaves tethered at five sites in the forests in Southwest Florida were taken by crabs. This contrasts greatly with reported values of leaf removal by crabs in Australian forests of 28-79% of the leaves reaching the forest floor. These differences in the faunal assemblages and in the fate of marked or tethered leaves provide preliminary support for the hypothesis that leaf litter is in fact processed in fundamentally different ways in the two biogeographic realms.
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Difference in the crab fauna of mangrove areas at a southwest Florida and a northeast Australia location: Implications for leaf litter processing