Shell choice in Pagurus longicarpus hermit crabs: does predation threat influence shell selection behavior?
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- Rotjan, R.D., Blum, J. & Lewis, S.M. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2004) 56: 171. doi:10.1007/s00265-004-0770-0
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Pagurus longicarpus hermit crabs depend on empty gastropod shells for protection against predation. Hermit crabs avoid gastropod shells in which holes have been drilled by naticid gastropods, and hermit crabs forced to occupy drilled shells are more vulnerable to predation by green crabs, Carcinus maenas. In this study, we examined the effect of predator cues on P. longicarpus shell investigation behavior and shell choice. In paired laboratory shell choice trials, we examined hermit crab response to green crab chemical cues. We compared hermit crabs from two sites differing in the percentage of Littorina littorea shells with drill holes. The percentage of time hermit crabs spent occupying intact shells increased significantly in the presence of predator cues. The effect of predator cues on the amount of time hermit crabs spent investigating shells differed between individuals from the two sites. Predator effluent had a marginal effect on the proportion of hermit crabs initially choosing intact shells and within 15 min most hermit crabs in both treatments occupied intact shells due to shell switching. These results indicate that predation cues alter P. longicarpus shell choice behavior favoring intact shells, which provide greater protection. In summary, predation appears to be a key factor influencing hermit crab shell selection behavior.