Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 9, pp 1497–1505 | Cite as

Male size-dependent dominance for burrow holding in the semiterrestrial crab Neohelice granulata: multiple tactics used by intermediate-sized males

  • M. P. Sal Moyano
  • M. Lorusso
  • J. Nuñez
  • P. Ribeiro
  • M. A. Gavio
  • T. Luppi
Original Article


Dominance and the establishment of social hierarchies are frequently related to size: the larger individuals gain greater reproductive success, while the smaller ones display alternative mating strategies. We studied the existence of dominance and the alternative mating strategies among Neohelice granulata small (SM) and large (LM) males competing for burrows. LM construct burrows with copulation chambers while SM do not. Field studies showed the existence of a SM’s size-range of 30–32 mm carapace width when they change behavior and occupy burrows with copulation chambers (hereafter referred to as the “switch size-range”). We found a restricted size-range in mating pair formation. Laboratory experiments showed that LM dominate SM because SM did not construct burrows in the presence of LM, and LM displaced SM from their burrows. When given the chance, recently mated SM occupied burrows without copulation chambers while not recently mated SM occupied chambered burrows. This is evidence that these males may be displaying a cheating mating strategy to copulate with females looking for these burrows: they occupy but do not own these burrows. SM can also intercept and mate females on the surface. Given the size restriction in pair formation, intermediate-sized males in the switch size-range (30–32 mm carapace width) may copulate with a broader female size-range, larger and smaller than themselves. In this way, SM in the switch size-range may be acquiring a higher reproductive success by adopting multiple tactics. Male dominance hierarchies have been well documented in crustaceans, except for crabs. Here, we demonstrate male dominance related to the construction and defense of burrows and male size in the crab N. granulata. We found that small males of a certain size range adopt an alternative “cheating” mating strategy that can enhance fitness. Therefore, although they are not large and dominant, small males can nevertheless achieve high reproductive success as a result of this alternative reproductive tactic.


Dominance Mating strategies Burrows Size Crustaceans 



We wish to thank to the two reviewers and the editors, James FA Traniello and Thomas Breithaupt, for their helpful comments and suggestions on the manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge Colin McLay for his helpful advice and for kindly correcting our English text which highly improved this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards


Financial support was given by Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Projects EXA 682/14 and EXA 711/14, and by Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica, Projects PICT 1317 and PICT 0763.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. P. Sal Moyano
    • 1
  • M. Lorusso
    • 1
  • J. Nuñez
    • 1
  • P. Ribeiro
    • 1
  • M. A. Gavio
    • 1
  • T. Luppi
    • 1
  1. 1.Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras (IIMyC), Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Universidad Nacional de Mar del PlataMar del PlataArgentina

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