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Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 6, pp 1357–1367 | Cite as

Phenotype-environment matching in the shore crab (Carcinus maenas)

  • P. A. ToddEmail author
  • R. A. Briers
  • R. J. Ladle
  • F. Middleton
Research Article

Abstract

The shore crab (Carcinus maenas) exhibits a range of carapace pattern polymorphisms, but little is known regarding their function or maintenance. If patterns represent some form of crypsis, then associations between carapace colouration and substrate are expected; to determine whether such relationships exist, frequency of crab morphs and quantity of substrate type were measured from fifteen 10×40 m2 quadrats at each of three sites along the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, Scotland. Five thousand one hundred and thirty-seven crabs and 3.6 km of line intercept transect data were collected during a 9-week period. Crab abundance, relative frequency of morphs and substrate type varied significantly among the three sites. Plain crabs were strongly associated with macro-algal substrates whereas patterned crabs were associated with mussel beds. This pronounced phenotype-environment matching, as well as various characteristics of the carapace patterns themselves, suggests that patterned crabs are cryptic on polychromatic backgrounds. The frequency of patterned crabs and the percentage of white pigment on the carapace both declined significantly with carapace width. The loss of pattern coincides with an ontogenetic shift in habitat use and we present evidence to suggest that individual crabs lose their pigment, rather than larger patterned crabs being preferentially removed from the population by predators. Throughout their life history, shore crabs encounter high variation in predation, food supply, and physical habitat; to survive they have evolved a strategy that includes elements of pattern polymorphism, crypsis, ontogenetic shifts, and plastic responses.

Keywords

Plastic Response Carapace Width White Pigment Rock Pool Green Crab 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgements

This study was funded and supported by the School of Life Sciences, Napier University. East Lothian Council, Scotland, kindly gave their permission to conduct this research on land under their jurisdiction. Many thanks to A. Brunton, A. Tan and P. Ward for their field assistance, discussion, and editing. We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and constructive criticism.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. A. Todd
    • 1
    Email author
  • R. A. Briers
    • 2
  • R. J. Ladle
    • 3
  • F. Middleton
    • 2
  1. 1.Marine Biology Laboratory, Department of Biological SciencesNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesNapier UniversityEdinburghUK
  3. 3.School of Geography and EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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