Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 3, pp 621–631

Environmental and endogenous control of selective tidal-stream transport behavior during blue crab Callinectes sapidus spawning migrations

  • M. Zachary Darnell
  • Thomas G. Wolcott
  • Dan Rittschof
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00227-011-1841-1

Cite this article as:
Darnell, M.Z., Wolcott, T.G. & Rittschof, D. Mar Biol (2012) 159: 621. doi:10.1007/s00227-011-1841-1


Selective tidal-stream transport (STST) is used by many estuarine organisms. Spawning blue crabs use a form of STST, ebb-tide transport (ETT), to migrate to high-salinity areas of the lower estuary and coastal ocean for larval release. In tidal estuaries, ETT is driven by a circatidal rhythm in vertical swimming with episodic ascents into the water column during ebb tide. This study examined vertical swimming behavior of migrating female blue crabs tethered in habitats they could encounter during migration. A combined bio-physical field study in the summer of 2009 simultaneously measured physical parameters of the water column and vertical swimming behavior of tethered ovigerous crabs using pressure-recording dataloggers. Tethering sites were in the tidal Beaufort Inlet drainage and the non-tidal Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System, North Carolina, USA. Crabs tethered in tidal areas swam primarily during ebb tides, both day and night. Swimming frequency increased as embryonic development progressed and ebb-tide swimming continued after larval release. Swimming frequency varied among habitats with the highest swimming frequency in the known migratory corridor. Swimming did not occur in the non-tidal habitat. Differences in swimming frequency among sites are hypothesized to be responses to environmental cues, including flow regime. Some habitats serve as migratory corridors while others serve as foraging stopovers. These areas are likely defined by a combination of environmental cues including flow regime.

Supplementary material

227_2011_1841_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (134 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 134 kb)
227_2011_1841_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (268 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 268 kb)
227_2011_1841_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (92 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 91.9 kb)
227_2011_1841_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (18 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (PDF 17 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Zachary Darnell
    • 1
    • 3
  • Thomas G. Wolcott
    • 2
  • Dan Rittschof
    • 1
  1. 1.Duke University Marine LaboratoryNicholas School of the EnvironmentBeaufortUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric SciencesNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  3. 3.Marine Science InstituteThe University of Texas at AustinPort AransasUSA