This shows a large male purple marsh crab (Sesarma reticulatum) clipping cordgrass with its claws. The burrow opening in the photograph leads to a large, communal burrow inhabited by 10-15 crabs. These crabs are nocturnal and typically reside in burrows during the day to stay moist and avoid predators. Photo credit: Tyler Coverdale

CapeCodOnline: A small purple crab is munching away at Cape Cod’s vulnerable marshes, thriving on unintended consequences from actions that go back nearly a century, according to a research paper released in January.

“It looks like you just mowed your lawn,” said Tyler Coverdale, one of the authors of the paper, which was published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Coverdale, a laboratory manager at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, and the paper’s other authors used aerial photographers from late 1939 through 2005 and geographic information systems technology to analyze marsh die-off around the Cape.

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