, Volume 149, Issue 2, pp 227-239
Date: 05 Apr 2006

Defense mechanisms and antipredator behavior in two sympatric species of spiny lobsters, Panulirus argus and P. guttatus

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The congeneric spiny lobsters Panulirus argus and P. guttatus co-occur throughout the Caribbean Sea, where they may share the coral reef habitat. Despite their phylogenetic closeness, both species have many different life-history traits that may partially explain their coexistence. However, even though both species may face the same predators, their defense mechanisms and antipredator strategies had not been compared. We compared the performance between species in 18 morphological and behavioral defense mechanisms commonly expressed by most spiny lobsters, including predator-avoidance mechanisms (activity schedule, sheltering behavior, delay to disturbance, and effect of conspecific damage-released scents on shelter choice) as well as antipredator mechanisms (body size, several parameters of the escape response and limb autospasy, clinging strength, antennal strength, and cooperative defense). As hypothesized, both species expressed all these defense mechanisms (except cooperative defense, shown only by P. argus), reflecting their phylogenetic closeness, but performed significantly differently in most, in accordance with their particular ontogenetic traits. Their comparative performance in individual defense mechanisms as well as the antipredator strategies displayed by groups of lobsters of each species in the presence of a common predator (the triggerfish Balistes vetula) showed that, in general, the defensive behavioral type of P. argus is more bold and that of P. guttatus more shy. Therefore, their distinct defensive behaviors contribute to their niche differentiation.