Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 3, pp 621–631 | Cite as

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

  • M. Zachary DarnellEmail author
  • Thomas G. Wolcott
  • Dan Rittschof
Original Paper


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.


Blue Crab Flood Tide Female Crab Larval Release Migratory Corridor 
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.



We thank Tara Essock-Burns, Kelly Darnell, Josh Osterberg, and Jack Boyle for technical assistance with this study and Gary and William Cannon for assistance with crab collection. Larry Crowder, Kelly Darnell, Richard Forward, Anson Hines, Bill Kirby-Smith, and Pablo Munguia provided valuable comments on this manuscript. Funding for this study was provided by North Carolina Sea Grant (Blue Crab Research Program grants 07-Biol-03 and 08-Biol-04).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 134 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 268 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (PDF 91.9 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (PDF 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Zachary Darnell
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • 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

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