, Volume 193, Issue 1, pp 155-182

Effect of crab effluent and scent of damaged conspecifics on feeding, growth, and shell morphology of the Atlantic dogwhelk Nucella lapillus (L.)

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Abstract

Juvenile Nucella lapillus of two different shell phenotypes, exposed shore and protected shore, were maintained in running seawater under each of three experimental conditions for 94 d: a) laboratory control, b) exposed to the effluent of crabs (Cancer pagurus) fed frozen fish (‘fish-crab’), and c) exposed to the effluent of crabs fed live conspecific snails (‘snail-crab’). Rates of barnacle consumption and rates of body weight change varied significantly between phenotypes and among experimental conditions. Individuals from the protected-shore consumed consistently fewer barnacles and grew consistently less than those from the exposed shore. Body weight increases in the fish-crab treatments were from 25 to 50% less than those in the controls and body weights in the snail-crab treatment either did not change or actually decreased. The perceived risk of predation thus appears to have a dramatic effect on the rates of feeding and growth of N. lapillus.

At the end of the experiment, size-adjusted final shell weights for both phenotypes were consistently higher than controls (no crab) in both the fish-crab and snail-crab treatments. In addition, apertural tooth height, thickness of the lip, and retractability (i.e. the extent to which a snail could withdraw into its shell), with few exceptions all varied in an adaptive manner in response to the various risk treatments. Similar changes in the shell form of starved snails exposed to the same stimuli suggest very strongly that the morphological responses of both phenotypes were not just due to differences in rates of growth. These differences, at least in part, represented a direct cueing of the shell form of Nucella lapillus to differences in the perceived risk of predation. Somewhat surprisingly, the extent of phenotypic plasticity appeared to differ between the populations examined. Both field and laboratory evidence suggest that the exposed-shore population was much more labile morphologically than the protected-shore population.

In many instances, particularly among starved snails, the development of antipredatory shell traits was greater in the fish-crab treatment than in the snail-crab treatment. Because the scent of crabs was present in both treatments, these results suggest a) that, at the frequency/concentration used in the experiments, the scent of damaged conspecifics may have been a supernormal stimulus and b) that the morphological response in these treatments might have been greater if the stimulus had been provided at a lower level.