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Title: Directional movement of consumer fronts associated with creek heads in salt marshes

Consumers often deplete local resources and aggregate along edges of remaining resources, forming “consumer fronts.” We examined the factors that promoteSesarma reticulatumcrab aggregations at saltmarsh creek heads to explain the directional but slow movement of these fronts. We also created artificial creek heads to test the hypothesis that hydrological conditions at creek heads create superior habitat for crabs. Soil temperatures were ˜11–12% cooler, hydrogen sulfide concentrations lower (0.0 vs. ˜0.58 mg/L), and dissolved oxygen concentrations twofold higher at the creek head versus the marsh platform. In the artificial creek‐head experiment, altering hydrological conditions led to lower dissolved sulfide levels, higher dissolved oxygen levels, and increased densities of crab burrows andSesarmacrabs. Moreover, the elevation of the soil surface declined rapidly at artificial creek heads versus controls, suggesting that crabs were increasing erosion. Our results suggest that abiotic conditions for crabs are better at the leading edge of the creek head than the trailing edge, explaining the directional movement of the front. Moreover, the speed at which the front propagates appears to be limited by the rate at which the creekhead erodes, rather than by crab mobility. The directional and slow movement ofSesarmafronts compared to consumer fronts of other invertebrates appears to result from the inextricable link betweenSesarmaand marsh geomorphology, whereas other consumer fronts are associated mostly with food resources.

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Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
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National Science Foundation
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