Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 185–192 | Cite as

Pillar building in the fiddler crab Uca beebei: evidence for a condition-dependent ornament

  • Patricia R.Y. Backwell
  • Michael D. Jennions
  • John H. Christy
  • Ursula Schober


In the fiddler crab (Uca beebei) males build a small mud pillar next to their burrow which increases their attractiveness to females. Three hypotheses were tested to explain inter-male variation in pillar-building. (1) The benefits of pillar-building are density dependent. The experimental addition of vertical structures did not support this hypothesis as there was no change in the level of pillar-building. (2) There are two classes of males (pillar-builders and non-pillar-builders). This could either be due to an alternative mating strategy, or because pillar building is age or size-dependent. There was also no support for this hypothesis. (3) Pillar-building is an honest signal of male quality dependent on body condition. A food supplementation experiment was performed. Addition of food affected several aspects of male behaviour and resulted in a two fold increase in the number of pillars built between control and food treatments (P < 0.001). However, the percentage of males building pillars did not increase significantly. Pillar building in this species has been attributed to sensory exploitation. Our results indicate that a trait which may well have evolved through sensory exploitation also appears to be condition-dependent. We emphasise that showing that an ornament or behaviour is condition-dependent does not necessarily mean that it evolved through “good gene” processes. However, in terms of its current selective value, pillar building may be maintained through female choice because it acts as a signal of male condition.

Key words

Fiddler crabs Condition dependence Sexual selection Handicap principle Sensory exploitation 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia R.Y. Backwell
    • 2
  • Michael D. Jennions
    • 1
  • John H. Christy
    • 2
  • Ursula Schober
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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